“In Alia Yunis’s poignant, hilarious first novel, “The Night Counter,’’ purple-haired, 85-year-old Fatimah Abdulla tells her life story to Scheherazade, the legendary storyteller from “The Arabian Nights,’’ who appears every night in the elderly woman’s Los Angeles bedroom. Fatimah has plenty of stories. She came to Detroit from Lebanon as a teenage bride, had two husbands and 10 children. She is preparing to die, but not before tying up a few loose ends, chief among them finding a wife for grandson Amir, an actor who insists he’s gay.
Fatimah has been telling her story for 992 nights, so she has only a few nights left to wrap things up. Three years ago she divorced Ibraham, her devoted second husband of 65 years, left him in Detroit, and flew to L.A. to move in with Amir. She passes her time fruitlessly matchmaking, following the Detroit Tigers on ESPN, and keeping up with “the Arab funeral circuit in L.A.’’ And she talks to Scheherazade about her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The branches of this family tree support four generations of achievement, assimilation, disappointment, and dysfunction. There’s Randa, who calls herself Randy and is married to Bud (formerly Bashir), a Houston attorney, and is the mother of three daughters, all cheerleaders. Daughter Hala, a Minneapolis gynecologist, was married and is now divorced. Fatima’s only surviving son, Harvard-educated Bassam, is a recovering alcoholic who calls himself Sam, works as a limousine driver in Las Vegas and is contemplating a fifth marriage, to a blonde bartender named Candy. Their stories form an affectionate, amusing, intensely human portrait of one family.”