SF Novella of the Month, August 2021: Night Roll

The #sfnovellaofthemonth for August 2021 is Michael J. DeLuca’s Night Roll, published in October 2020 by Stelliform Press.

Reading Night Roll is like coasting through the unknowable streets of someone else’s dream. Strange, mysterious, lovely; laced with ribbons of slowly-unspooling anxiety and spiked with passing slivers of danger, this gently wild novella is a ride I do not think I will soon forget.

Night Roll combines something I know and love well—scrappy, defiant, anti-capitalist, community-oriented, DIY bicycle culture—with two things rather more alien to me, i.e., motherhood and the city of Detroit. I have minimal tolerance for stories about motherhood, particularly when told by male-identifying writers; it is a testament to DeLuca’s skilful prose and compelling vision that at no point did I feel put off by his depiction of a struggling single mother and her complex feelings toward her baby, her postpartum body, and the unfamiliar, alone, unsettled new version of herself she must learn to inhabit. Having never been to Detroit, I can have no opinion regarding the authenticity of its presence in this novella—but it feels as real and true as any portrayal of a city I have read. The people and places of Night Roll come alive in ways I would not have expected in such a brief narrative, and I found them wonderfully easy to care for from the very first page.

While this novella’s great strength lies in its vivid characterizations and tangible descriptions of setting and place, another captivating feature is its journey through some of Detroit’s local mythology. Having never read much about the city, I was not aware of the Nain Rouge legends; looking it up after finishing the book made for a delightful and—due to the colonial history surrounding the legend’s origins—poignant coda to my reading experience.

Like all of the books I have read from Stelliform Press, Night Roll is a treasure. I look forward to recommending it to my cycling friends, and everyone else I know who appreciates all things surreal, fantastical, and—most of all—hopeful.

Disclaimer: I volunteer as a first reader at Stelliform Press, and I received a free digital copy of Night Roll from the publisher. However, my decision to feature this book as #sfnovellaofthemonth was my own, as are all opinions in this review. Volunteering at a small press is a labour of love, in this case a love stemming from my admiration of both the Stelliform mission and the sheer quality of every book I have read from the press’s growing catalogue. While my opinions on Stelliform’s books are unquestionably biased, this particular bias comes straight from the heart.

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