Adam Gnade’s After Tonight, Everything Will Be Different
After Tonight, Everything Will Be Different presents a true picture of jubilance, happiness, adrenaline, and exhilaration partnered with the depths of despair all framed by heart-wrenching, beautifully written descriptions of food on its most basic American level. The latest installation in Adam Gnade’s seemingly semi-autobiographical series of novels and audio recordings, We Live Nowhere and Know No One, begins as a hopeful, against-all-odds look at the narrator’s childhood and takes a dark turn when he hits adolescence. Each chapter is titled for the food that allows for an escape from or punctuates the distinct moment in the narrator’s life.
Let’s take a step back. I am an avid food lover, and by that I mean a lover of all foods. Do I keep it high-brow sometimes? Yes. I am chef/owner of a farm-to-table restaurant that comes with its own pretentions. I appreciate a Grower Champagne served with caviar and crème fraîche and a dozen Maine oysters. Have I also downed that same caviar on saltines with sour cream, all served with a baby spoon (literally a plastic spoon for a baby), while drinking beer late-night on my front porch? Yes. All things considered, would I trade it all seventy-five percent of the time for a bag of Spicy Nacho Doritos and a chocolate malt? Also, yes. For me, food is work, food is play, food is a cure for deep sadness, and food is a celebration. Food is life and food is love.
Gnade captures all of this in After Tonight, Everything Will Be Different. He writes with a confident stream of consciousness—part prose poem, part personal essay, part coming-of-age novel, part manic depressive Kerouacesque road novel, part confessional outpouring floating above narrative—all a love letter to humanity full of beauty and heartbreak. Each chapter provides a glimpse into the narrator’s life, beginning with the struggles of his young, slightly rootless parents trying to make it in the world, provide the best life for their son, and keep him from understanding the depths of their struggles juxtaposed with the strained nostalgic innocence he places upon his former self and punctuates with vivid sense memory. The perfect friendship of butter & grilled sourdough, the hard-to-place fruity scent of cactus candy, the joy in anticipation of pizza delivery, all gloss over a deep, universal, inevitable melancholy. Gnade intersperses an ode to the versatility of wheat with a longing for the simplicity of friendships of youth, pairing middle-school misfit angst with the true love of Nacho Cheese Doritos.
As the narrator ages, a depression begins to take over and he sinks into the background while lifting the stories of his friends to the surface. While James (said narrator) is a character present throughout the works of We Live Nowhere and Know No One, Gnade doesn’t name him in After Tonight, Everything Will Be Different until page 147. There is a jarring shift in storytelling as James becomes more of an observer, floating on the waves of the dominant personalities of the people with which he surrounds himself. When the most important person in James’s life moves to New York, despite being surrounded by people, a deep loneliness presides. It’s a loneliness that we have all felt in the past years, living in a world where our social circles, however tight-knit or wide-spread, were suddenly ripped from us and replaced by electronic facsimiles of our friendships. It’s clear that this novel was written during the COVID-19 pandemic and gives voice to the sudden universal mourning present in these last few years for a life that will never be the same.
The best thing about After Tonight, Everything Will Be Different is Gnade’s seemingly innate ability to provide a universal painting of humanity and the ability to find salvation in the loving of specific people and things through such a very specific perspective. After all,
loving even the smallest number of people is a reason to stick around, a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Trying to love people while holding onto hope is a daily war where the enemy is so much stronger than you. The enemy has tanks and bombs. They have napalm they’ll drop on you, and you’ve got Nerf guns and wooden swords. It’s disheartening even on the best days. So you look for reasons, for evidence as to why you should keep trying. Is the fact that people love the American cheese taco evidence of humanity’s potential for goodness? Is it a reason to believe in something better? Today it is. In this moment it is.
If we can’t find love in the little things, then all hope is lost. Find hope in this book. Find its complicated, manic, heartbroken beauty as evidence of humanity’s potential for goodness.
Published by Bread & Roses Press and Three One G, January 2022
For another critical look at ingenious human strategies of survival, read Lee Clough on Edy Poppy’s Anatomy, Monotony.