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Night Watch

by Kevin Armstrong

Kevin Armstrong’s first collection of short fiction begins and ends with sailing stories, fictionally documenting a geographical journey the author himself undertook. Armstrong spent 15 months sailing in and around the Kingdom of Tonga, where many of the stories are set.

But Night Watch is much more than a series of travel narratives glorifying the beauty of exotic locales. The narrative perspective is ever-changing, continually exploring the challenging concepts of “home” and “away.” The narrators rarely feel at home where they are, and the theme of dislocation, both physical and emotional, is ever-present. Night Watch unravels the dichotomies of a traveler’s life and the struggle to understand what is being seen, beyond a mere tourist’s viewpoint. The best stories hit the reader at an emotional, almost sensual, level with wrenching, particular details. This attention to sensual detail weaves into the larger themes of literature: love and loss, obsession and rejection.

Armstrong’s writing is deft and confident, building scenes cinematically while drawing attention to the minutiae of the landscape. “The First Motion of Love” humorously details a romantic obsession via a letter to an author. The most innovative story of the book, it is also edged with fear and an impending danger. The weakest story, “The Legend of Kuop,” examines, in a very literal manner, the idea of myth, but fails to make an impact on the reader, possibly because of the near impossibility of understanding another culture’s stories and mythologies.