Thursday, May 15, 2014

And the Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass

Julia Glass always writes novels of substance. And the Dark Sacred Night (Pantheon, 2014) is her fifth novel. This time around, she offers a tangled tale of family secrets that succeeds tremendously at illuminating the inner lives of its characters. What might be hackneyed plot elements in other writers' hands struck me as sensitively handled, number one being Kit Noonan's midlife quest to finally find out who his father was. His mother, Daphne, was a single Mom who would only tell him that his father had died. Now Kit, an unemployed, depressed art historian and the father of a pair of twins, flees to the home of his stepfather Jasper's home in Vermont at the urging of his wife. She hopes Jasper can help Kit uncover the specifics of his parentage.

I won't try and detail all the other many characters and plot points involved, except to say that one of the storylines takes us back to a Berkshires music camp where Daphne, a cellist falls in love with flutist Malachy Burns (a character some of us remember from Three Junes, Glass' first novel). Their love burns with a luminescent intensity so typical of first loves. Back and forth between the past and present, the novel's riches unfold. Ultimately, yes, there are family reunions and tender developments between those who are reunited. Malachy's ghost haunts the novel. But my favorite character was Jasper, the gruff stepfather who helps Kit reconcile the past. Jasper's part in the tale is eclipsed by later developments, but I was glad to find him again by novel's end.

Some reviewers have fussed at Glass for packing too many ruminative details into the novel, and I did feel a touch of that towards the end when a family reunion finds many of the characters gathered in a borrowed summer house in Provincetown, but I plowed through, persisting and ultimately believing that Glass had good reasons for every development, every heart turned inside out. Kudos also on the title, drawn from "What a Wonderful World", the Louis Armstrong song whose bittersweet affect seems perfect for this brooding novel.

P.S. Today is the fifth anniversary of my retirement from Harris County Public Library. Last year I had lots to say about the state of retirement but don't feel like I have much to add this year. I get so busy, I forget that for 29 years, a large part of my time was devoted to library service! Life is good, full of art, writing, family, freinds and church groups, not to mention book club, charity crochet projects, lectures at the Jung Center, travel, yoga, cooking and gardening, etc. More of my friends are retiring now and most seem to be adapting to it just fine. On that note, I will end with a quote from Madeleine L'Engle: "The great thing about growing older is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been."

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