Austin Nights by Michael Davidson
‘Austin Nights’ is one of the sincerest Valentines one can give a city. The story focuses on the emotions of moving, growing older and wondering ‘What now?’ For there’s a lot of there’s a lot of that happening. In order to avoid a complete descent into cut and dry storytelling the parts are rearranged. Michael breaks up the narrative into pieces that flow emotionally not linearly. Michael and Bridget share duties in the story. Between them a fuller picture of their reality is shown. Bridget is ambitious with a discernible career path. Michael makes cheese with pinto beans for himself. With each of their different personalities they manage to care the other, in a way that shows off their disparate personalities.
What ties the story together is the sense of disorientation. Right from the beginning road trip, nicely chopped and sprinkled throughout the story, there is this competing conflict of inertia versus stasis. They avoid sleep. Michael cleverly buys pills at a gas station to keep him awake. Is this a good idea? No not really but this is the same person who takes a detour to find Jack Kerouac’s house, a nondescript nothing in the middle of nowhere in Florida. Michael appears saddened with the experience knowing that he’s close yet can’t find it. They literally don’t have any signs up.
Michael’s parts are focused on the past and present. The future remains in outline form. A few bullet points are there but nothing concrete. Usually Michael is speaking with others about the past. Whether it is his old friends from school, from Miami Beach, or even a fellow resident from his new building, the conversations are all about the past. Kind nicknames are exchanged (‘bum’ for one) even as it becomes clear that one is the bum (Michael) and the other has a 2,500 square foot house in a desirable part of Texas. Aspects of politics are discussed by Michael as he remembers the 60s with Abe, who goes on about how beautiful America is from the ground, not from the sky. Like Abe, Michael feels the same way, willing to borrow a car and drive from Miami Beach to Austin to experience it firsthand.
Bridget with reddish gold hair takes a different perspective. She studies autism. In fact the move is thanks to her blossoming future. Michael’s previous work (for Google, in Florida real estate) has taken a tumble. Much of his story deals with the pains of writing, of getting thoughts down. Her parts focus intensely on Michael’s behaviors: how he treats Honeyed Cat, his unemployment, lack of direction, etc. She comes across as a form of discipline for Michael’s travels into his own mind. Compared to Michael Bridget is completely clear-headed and thoughtful. By analyzing everything Michael risks getting caught up in history rather than creating a future.
The story is fragment, beautiful, like little rays of light. While the disjointed nature at first befuddles it makes more sense this way. Little side characters are explored with empathy. Clearly the characters love each other and want to help others. Multiple instances show this to be the case. And in their own small way they succeed on a small scale which is all anyone can really expect.