After loving The Art of Racing in the Rain and seeing Garth Stein at a book signing, I was impatient for his next book, A Sudden Light, which was recently released. As it turned out, it is a family saga, which I happen to like (End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver and The Big House by Henry Howe Colt, as examples.) Unfortunately, A Sudden Light didn’t live up to my expectations nor the two other family sagas mentioned.
Elijah Riddell made his fortune clear-cutting forests in the U.S. Northwest in the late 1800s and early 1900s. His wealth was shown by the enormous estate (200+ acres) near Seattle called North Estate. In Elijah’s time, first sons inherited the family business, however Elijah’s first son, Ben, turned out to be a conservationist. His beliefs were like those of John Muir and Henry David Thoreau, where we (people, nature, all things) are connected and he somehow convinced his father that to make amends for his devastation of the beautiful forests, he should let North Estate return to its natural form at some point.
It is now 1990 and there is nothing left of Riddell’s fortune except the house. His progeny have squandered whatever was left to them. Elijah’s grandson, Samuel who appears to be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, inhabits the house. His children, Jones and Serena, want him to sign a Power of Attorney so that they can sell the house and land, refinance their lives and be rich again. Samuel, however, wants to follow Elijah’s wishes.
Jones, who as a young adult moved to Connecticut, married and had a son, Trevor, has come back to Seattle, ostensibly to help his younger sister accomplish this task. He has brought fourteen year old Trevor with him. Trevor is soon caught up in the Riddell history, the house and his gorgeous Aunt Serena and initially is in favor of selling the land, hoping new found riches will help his estranged parents reunite.
Trevor’s only problem is that Ben comes to him in nightly dreams, revealing deep secrets, explaining why Elijah’s wishes should be adhered to and more. As a fourteen year old, Trevor is confused about so many things in life, including, in this case, what is right and what is wrong.
I will readily admit that I do believe all things are connected. We read today of the continued clear-cutting of the Amazon and who knows what climatic and environmental devastation that will cause. We see the impact of global warming. And who is to say that our spirits don’t reside somewhere that can be reached. I won’t dismiss that idea. However in A Sudden Light it is way to blatant. There’s no mystery, no shroud or fogginess and it takes away from the story.
Additionally, while the story is supposedly being told by a mature Trevor in a fourteen year old voice, the voice isn’t believable. Sometimes it seems too old, sometimes too young.
Finally, A Sudden Light is the story of a dysfunctional family. But much of that dysfunction is lost in the spirit world of the story.
After bagging the two previous books I started, I felt committed to this book, so I finished it. However, I’m not sure I would have if I hadn’t put down two previous books.