The one advantage of COVID-19 mandated lockdown is the time to start working my way through the ever-expanding “LGBTQ+ reading pile”, which brought me to a book I’ve been meaning to start for almost a year now – Iolanda Zanfardino’s beautiful Midnight Radio.
Midnight Radio drops in on the lives of four people around the United States, each dealing with their own, very different problems, each connected by the power of a radio. In San Francisco, I.T. specialist Mike is dealing with a hacker intent on disrupting the pharmaceutical website he works for. Joanne is struggling to connect to her life and the people around her after a tragedy. Seika has fled from Japan to America for a new life but finds it hard to forge her own path. And while a hit on social media, Stephen has stopped speaking out loud and pulled away from friends and family.
The book pulls at a lot of different threads but never strays far from the core – the emotional story of these four people. Their lives are filled with bad choices (one night stands, drugs, there’s even an art heist) but the thread of inner, emotional crisis is what pushes the stories forward. As a writer Zanfardino nails us with instantly clear characters with recognisably true inner lives.
The radio connection isn’t overbearing or even a plot device, simply a framing mechanism that does what music does to us all – draws out emotions we don’t usually express so easily. It reminded me of that wave of 90s independent films about the lives of loosely connected young people in cities. A tapestry of modern tales that together illustrate modern life.
One storyline touches on the tragedy of events like the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016 without being coarse or heavy-handed. Others deal with the compromises we make as we get older and the dichotomy of digital lives, while some touch on issues of bigotry, trans friendships and how we deal with our families. Each story hits home the desire for, and need of, true human connection – which is something we’re all craving from our socially-distant bubbles right now.
And then there’s the art, which is stunning.
The story flows thanks to Zanfardino’s expressive line work, and terrific use of colour. Each storyline has its own primary colour palette, which not only makes it easy to read, it adds an emotional texture to the book. There’s a confidence to the storytelling that covers both the character-centric moments as well as action.
Midnight Radio is a great read, it’s as simple as that. Stunningly rendered and easy to take in. My only complaint would be that I would have liked the book to be longer – I could easily have stayed in Zarfardino’s world for a few more hours.
By Chad Armstrong