“Ray Robertson is an irrepressible voice, with brass balls, and a heart of gold. I Was There the Night He Died is a hilarious, moving, insightful, and timely piece of modern realism, delightfully void of literary pretension. Here, at last, is a novel that rocks and rolls.”—Jonathan Evison, author of The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving
"So,” she says. “Who died tonight?”
Sam Samson, meet Samantha. Sam’s a novelist: his dad has Alzheimer’s, his mother died of stroke, his wife was killed seventeen months ago in a car crash. Samantha, eighteen, is a cutter. She lives across the street from Sam’s parents’ house. Marijuana and loneliness spark an unlikely friendship, which Sam finds hard to navigate, especially as his dad’s condition worsens and the money for his care suddenly vanishes. Yet somehow, between a record player and a park bench, through late-night conversations about the deaths of Sam’s musical heroes, and ultimately through each other, Sam and Samantha learn to endure the things they fear most.
Starring a 40-something writer who stumbles through the small town he thought he’d left behind forever, and a marooned teenager who wishes she were anywhere else, I Was There The Night He Died is a saucy, swaggering look at loss, love, and the redeeming power of music in the twenty-first century.
Praise for Ray Robertson,
A Women’s National Book Association Great Group Reads Author, 2013
Shortlisted for the Hilary Weston Prize, 2011
and the Trillium Prize, 2008
“Ray Robertson is the Jerry Lee Lewis of North American Letters.”
—Chuck Kinder, author of Honeymooners
“Both playful and profound, laced with insight from music to history, politics to literature, high to low culture.”—National Post
“Robertson's art is as character-driven as Mordecai Richler's … he wants us all to behave better and doesn't care who he angers along the way.”—Globe and Mail
When novelist Sam Samson returns to his battered hometown of Chatham, Ont. "Canada's cancer capital" and a forlorn factory town where arson and charity clothing stores are, Samson's sharp-tongued narration notes, the biggest growth industries he is full of "death thoughts." He's deeply sad, angry, and desperate for distractions: Within a five-year span, his mother, wife and dog have died; and after a long absence, his reluctant homecoming is in response to his institutionalized father's aggressive Alzheimer's. Coming off an addiction to speed (and reliant on ample substitutions of caffeine, wine, and marijuana), and trying to write a book about the lives and deaths of important popular musicians, Samson's a bundle of contradictory impulses and swinging moods. Over the change from "wintertime's squall and shiver" to April's greater light, however, the "selfish sonofabitch" undergoes incremental changes. Between bouts of cleaning out his parents' house, he visits high school acquaintances and an uncle and befriends a troubled and cynical teenage girl. As Robertson (Home Movies) ponders family and home as well as "what it means to love someone and to lose someone and to have to go on living anyway," he presents an intriguing character whose very real troubles are offset by bright flashes of hope.