Review: Late Nights on Air

Late Nights on AirElizabeth Hay, Late Nights on Air

This novel centers around a small group of people working at a radio station in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada. Harry is a once-promising radio man who has returned to Yellowknife after a disastrous attempt at television. Eleanor, the station’s receptionist, has no life of her own but is keenly observant of the lives of others. Gwen has recently moved to town and is hoping to learn radio production at the station. And newcomer Dido is a natural on-air talent who catalyzes various shifts in the station’s social atmosphere. All these characters have been drawn to Yellowknife for different reasons, but they are united in their fascination and love for the austere beauty of northern Canada. As they develop new friendships, romances, and animosities, they also discuss the history, mythology, and current concerns of the Canadian frontier — especially as a proposed transnational pipeline threatens its very identity.

I picked up this book for its setting, and I think it does a wonderful job of immersing readers in the unique world of the Canadian North. There are lovingly detailed descriptions of weather, scenery, and wildlife; digressive anecdotes about Canadian history, especially the many European explorers who attempted to survive the brutal winters; discussions about the relationship between white settlers and native peoples; and nostalgia for a fading way of life. Hay cleverly uses the debates and hearings surrounding the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline as a framework for her story; the possible destruction of the northern ecosystem parallels the slow destruction of radio as the primary medium for storytelling due to the arrival of television. The novel is somber and contemplative in tone, and the focus is on character and setting much more than on plot. But for anyone interested in books with a unique and vividly described setting, I would definitely recommend this!