Late Nights on Air tells the story of a small northern radio station, peopled by an odd mix of characters who have been thrown together through the vagaries of fate. Harry, the curmudgeonly station boss, is escaping his demons and his fall from grace in southern Canada. Gwen, fascinated by stories of northern exploration she read as a child, longs to retrace the trails of doomed explorers through radio documentary. Dido, an exotic and polarizing possessor of a perfect radio voice, plays people against each other with dark sensuality. Thrown into the mix are the volatile and dangerous Eddy, the lovable romantic Ralph, the spiritually-awakened Eleanor, and the wise and pragmatic Theresa.
Against the backdrop of the Mackenzie Valley pipeline inquiries, issues of racism and violence, and the threat of a newly-planned television station displacing the importance of the small northern radio station, four of the characters - Harry, Gwen, Ralph, and Eleanor - set out on a lengthy canoe trip. This fateful canoe journey is the strongest part of the book, and Hay's depiction of the astonishing landscape of the Barrens makes me realize that I know nothing of the mysterious far north.
I enjoyed this book, but it didn't particularly move me. It unfolds rather slowly, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but I did have an issue with Hay's overuse of foreshadowing of a particular tragedy. Hay warns of the upcoming event for so many chapters before it actually happens, that I stopped paying attention.
Late Nights on Air is an enjoyable read, and I learned something about early arctic exploration, and about the geography of the far north. Ultimately, though, I didn't care enough about the characters to revisit them after I closed the covers.