Friday, March 6, 2020

Sandra Ruttan on Nocturne le jeudi by Scott Phillips

Nocturne le jeudi means Thursday Night. The casual title should be the first clue that this story is about an average person doing average things. We're introduced to the English bookseller living in Paris. He's familiar in so many respects. His life is typical. He avoids conflict. At first, you can hardly blame the guy for escaping his tiny abode so that he can read in peace and not listen to his neighbors fight.

But as the story progresses, the familiarity of the bookseller takes on a different shape. The man is complacent. Life happens to him, but he does nothing to take charge of his circumstances and change their outcome.

The bookseller is so familiar. We all know people who go along with the flow and never take charge of their destiny. We all know people who go to great lengths to avoid conflict and tell themselves that what's happening next door is none of their business.

When the protagonist witnesses an incident on the street, it's hardly surprising he keeps walking. He rationalizes the entire scene away believably. His justifications are all too familiar. While I prefer to avoid spoilers in a review, the best part of this story is in the climax, and if you want to avoid any hint of spoilers, stop reading here.

As a woman, that climax was a punch in the gut. I had no trouble believing a man would rationalize away an assault on a woman. That fit would be assumed she was the attacker's wife or girlfriend. That it was domestic or between consenting adults and none of a passerby's business.

That's the subtle knife twist of this story. How normalized this is. On any given Thursday night anyone strolling the streets could hear an assault and just keep walking. They could tell themselves if there's a problem, surely someone else will get involved. It's such a tremendous commentary on our society. We take no responsibility for the ills that befall others and absolve ourselves of the consequences. "I didn't know. Why didn't someone else call?" Nothing is ever our fault... Says the man who stands by while his partner leaves him, while people around him are assaulted and abused, while his employer goes out of business.

Says the man who stands idly by, a victim of circumstances he refuses to change.

This story was a punch in the gut that stayed with me. It shows how you can write what seems to be a quiet, unassuming little story that packs a hell of a message.

(Nocturne le jeudi first appeared in Paris Noir edited by Maxim Jakubowski and is included in Scott's short fiction collection Rum, Sodomy and False Eyelashes. Paris is also the setting of his novel Rake. Scott Phillips' new novel That Left Turn at Albuquerque is available now from Soho Books. Grab a copy at your favorite local bookstore through Indie Bound or from

Subterranean Books (they'll have signed editions)

Barnes & Noble

Sandra Ruttan is the author of several novels including The Spying Moon, editor of anthologies and the submssions editor at Bronzeville Books. Keep up with Sandra at her website and follow her on Twitter @SandraRuttan

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