Nate Kingsley is the creative director for a run-down theater that houses an opera company that presents traditional operas with performers in gender-bent roles. Nate is single, having made poor relationship choices in the past and nearly destroying the reputation of his best friend and the close bond between them in the process. Yet, Nate sees the kind of relationships his friends have with their partners and he wants that, only he thinks the object of his crush, drag queen TaTa Latke, is unobtainable.
Izzy is a paramedic who, in his spare time, dons a wig, heels, and a dress to perform as TaTa. Izzy has a failed marriage behind him after discovering he is infertile, though he has two women who keep in him line — his mothers. Izzy is a keen runner who has recently qualified for the Boston Marathon and puts his recent muscle stiffness down to not training hard enough.
When Nate and his friends plan a charity benefit to raise funds for a local health clinic, both Nate and TaTa agree to take part. When the benefit arrives, Nate is without a singing partner and TaTa offers to sing with him. The mutual chemistry between them leads to dating. However, as Nate and Izzy begin to realize their feelings for another are serious, they both receive devastating news about their own health that threatens the happiness they both crave.
Nightsong is the second book in A.M. Leibowitz’s Notes from Boston series. Although it can be read as a stand-alone, as I did, I feel that I missed out on introductions to characters and their history together, which would have enhanced my enjoyment of Nightsong.
This is a relatively complex novel that not only follows the relationship between Nate and Izzy, but those that they have with their family and friends. In Izzy’s case, this is simpler because in his life there is really only Val, his co-worker and TaTa’s co-performer, and Eema and Ma Rose. This does not make them any less significant though and I really liked how Izzy’s mothers connect him to his religion. Judaism is important in Izzy’s life, but Leibowitz is able to bring the subject matter into Nightsong without making this a focus. For us, it just becomes a part of who Izzy is and I did not feel irritated by Leibowitz’s choice to incorporate religion into her story, as I sometimes do when authors approach the topic.
Nate has a very difficult relationship with his family and though I understand Leibowitz’s need to explore this, I also felt that the territory this draws us into is heavy and supplementary to the development of the plot.
Nate’s group of friends play a large part in Nightsong. I often found it difficult to keep track of the different characters and their relationships to one another, but as I previously mentioned, I may have found this easier if I had read Anthem. I liked the support system these friends offer to Nate, particularly in the latter stages of the novel, but for me, sometimes the events that took place with the friendship group were a distraction from Nate and Izzy’s own relationship and I found myself wondering if it was necessary for the reader to be part of some of these situations.
The secondary characters also allow Leibowitz to encompass different elements of the LGBT spectrum and the varying relationships humans have. Obviously, Nate is gay and Izzy, a bisexual drag queen. Nate is described a being a “hopeless romantic” and when considering the relationships his friends choose to have “he couldn’t understand being in love with two people at once.” Izzy’s bisexuality initially confuses Nate, although the fact that they both want a monogamous relationship pacifies him. It is Nate’s attraction to TaTa, though, that forces him to question himself, which is the subject of an enlightening conversation between Nate and his friends and possibly one of my favorite quotes in the novel:
You don’t need to define yourself by what your partner does or how they dress.
For me, this quote is an expression of the message Leibowitz is sending in Nightsong and I am sure that because of this, the novel will touch readers in a variety of ways.
Nate and Izzy’s romance is a slow-developing one and the reader understands Nate’s reason for not rushing into sex, thanks to the care Leibowitz takes with her detailed story-telling. This does not mean that the feelings between them are any less intense. Instead, I felt they were more so because of the time Leibowitz chooses to take with the men and their relationship. Nightsong is a story in which it is important that we know our protagonists well; the shocking health discoveries both Nate and Izzy make require us to empathize with them and care about the future they may, or may not, have together.
Nightsong is not only a love story but a novel that deals with very real social issues and it has difficult and emotive moments. I may not have been completely engrossed in Nightsong, but Leibowitz reveals a talent for writing strong character-driven stories that will appeal to many readers.