This is Laura McBride’s second novel, following her very successful We Are Called to Rise. In ‘Round Midnight , McBride focuses on four women whose lives intersect at the El Capitán hotel and casino in Las Vegas. There is June Dibb, a white woman whose husband is the casino owner and who falls disastrously in love with Eddie, the star singer at the casino’s Midnight Room. There is Honorata, a Filipina mail-order bride whose husband-to-be takes her to the casino before they will presumably be married, until she wins the Megabucks slot machine. There is Coral, an bi-racial woman who believes June’s husband Del is her father and who was raised by the widow of Del’s best friend. Then there is Engracia, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who works at the casino as a maid and who is tied to Las Vegas by tragedy.
These women connect in multiple and surprising ways. In many ways, they save each other. June recognizes the untenable situation Honorata is in and intervenes on her behalf. Coral befriends Honorata’s daughter, hiring her to babysit and fostering her friendship with her children. Engracia works for Honorata and saves her by sharing her own heartbreak in a tense stand off that happens when that abandoned would-be husband shows up years later. Honorata sends Coral to help Engracia, concerned that she might be in danger–an action that finally reveals the truth to Coral.
‘Round Midnight is one of those books that wrench your heart, stomp on it, break it, and then mend it again. With so much coincidence, it would be easy for the book to feel inauthentic and false, but somehow McBride makes them all feel like happenstance, as though the world really can fall into place like that.
She makes people who are humane and decent. Even Jimbo, the man who buys a woman he never met seems more a hapless, lonely man just searching for love and family rather than a trafficking rapist. It is the one thing I disliked. When he realized that Honorata was not the eager mail order bride he had expected, rather than recognizing she was the victim, he was angry with her, even abusive and violent. There was too much empathy for poor Jimbo. Yes, he was lonely, but loneliness does not excuse his actions, not in the past and not in the present when he confronts Honorata. Of course, we live in a world when the abuses and violence and privilege of white men are forgiven very easily.
The rest of the characters are so much more sympathetic. There is June’s husband, Del, struggling to do the best he can in a world that has no room for him. He is a man with a deep capacity for love and compassion. Throughout the book, from the priest at the Catholic church to Coral’s mother and siblings, there are just so many wonderful, warm, and loving people. The world may be hostile and the struggle may be real, but a world with these people in it must be good.
‘Round Midnight will be released May 2nd. I received an advance reading copy from the publisher through Shelf Awareness.