We just finished reading Salman Rushdie's Luka and the Fire of Life, and the kids and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But just as we were wrapping up, I stumbled in my reading, and that cool evening came out as the cool evening. Those of you who have read the book will know that a small stumble can take you out of one world and into another. In this case, it briefly took me into the world of syntax.
You see, even though, decontextualized, most of us don't see much difference between the evening and that evening, my slip actually made the entire sentence ungrammatical. I'll let you think about what context that might be true in and then explain after the jump.
The full sentence, which you can find on p. 216 of the hardcover, is "On the flat roof of the Khalifa house, that cool evening, a dinner table was set out under the stars." In this sentence, that cool evening is a noun phrase functioning as an adjunct. The interesting thing is that the choice of determiner for the NP makes a big difference. Some determiners lead to grammatical sentences, and others don't: that works but the doesn't; one works, but not a, unless you say many a cool evening. You can try out other options.
In truth, it's not simply up to the determiner. For instance, the can be made to work if you add an integrated relative as modifier of evening (i.e., the evening they arrived home, a dinner table was set out under the stars.)
I'd love to try and figure out whether there's some kind of underlying principle at work here, but I really have too much marking to do. I do hope that you have a smaller marking backlog than I do and that you might be able to enlighten me though.