In this richly detailed novel about the quest for an unknown father, Julia Glass brings new characters together with familiar figures from her first two novels, immersing readers in a panorama that stretches from suburban New Jersey to rural Vermont and ultimately to the tip of Cape Cod.Read more...
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In this richly detailed novel about the quest for an unknown father, Julia Glass brings new characters together with familiar figures from her first two novels, immersing readers in a panorama that stretches from suburban New Jersey to rural Vermont and ultimately to the tip of Cape Cod.
Kit Noonan is an unemployed art historian with twins to help support and a mortgage to pay--and a wife frustrated by his inertia. Raised by a strong-willed, secretive single mother, Kit has never known the identity of his father--a mystery that his wife insists he must solve to move forward with his life. Out of desperation, Kit goes to the mountain retreat of his mother's former husband, Jasper, a take-no-prisoners outdoorsman. There, in the midst of a fierce blizzard, Kit and Jasper confront memories of the bittersweet decade when their families were joined. Reluctantly breaking a long-ago promise, Jasper connects Kit with Lucinda and Zeke Burns, who know the answer he's looking for. Readers of Glass's first novel, "Three Junes, " will recognize Lucinda as the mother of Malachy, the music critic who died of AIDS. In fact, to fully understand the secrets surrounding his paternity, Kit will travel farther still, meeting Fenno McLeod, now in his late fifties, and Fenno's longtime companion, the gregarious Walter Kinderman.
"And the Dark Sacred Night" is an exquisitely memorable tale about the youthful choices that steer our destinies, the necessity of forgiveness, and the risks we take when we face down the shadows from our past.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-03-31
- Reviewer: Staff
Glass's uneven new novel (after The Widower's Tale) centers around 40-year-old Kit Noonan, an unemployed college professor who—against his mother Daphne's wishes—wants to track down Malachy Burns, the father he never knew (and a character from Glass's 2002 National Book Award -winning debut Three Junes). At the urging of his wife Sandra, Kit turns to his stepfather Jasper for advice on the matter. Though Jasper is reticent to betray Daphne's confidence, he provides Kit with information that ultimately leads Kit to find his grandmother, Lucinda Burns. Glass uses the limited third person viewpoint to get in the heads of five very different characters, and she does it skillfully. Their disparate worlds are fleshed out in great detail, but though Kit is the character pushing the plot forward, he is the least intriguing of the five. Glass's portrayal of Lucinda is by far her strongest; the grief she feels is visible through the family dynamic of her and her other children. Such sections ring with emotional truth while others feel precious. Glass produces spot-on descriptions: one character spends most nights in bed " awake for half an hour or more, his mind, hawk-like, circling and re-circling his life from above." This imperfect work will still reward loyal readers. Agent: Gail Hochman, Brandt & Hochman Literary Agents. (Apr.)
A spiritual journey to connect past and present
Julia Glass’ fifth novel borrows for its title a lyric from “What a Wonderful World,” the song made famous by Louis Armstrong. In Glass’ book, the reference comes up when Fenno McLeod, the Scottish expat introduced in Three Junes, is at a therapy session with his boyfriend. “The past is like the night: dark yet sacred,” the therapist says, neatly summing up the crux of this big-hearted story of family ties. “There is no day without night, no wakefulness without sleep, no present without past. They are constantly somersaulting over each other.” So it goes in And the Dark Sacred Night.
The plotline somersaults back and forth, from past to present, and there are several points of view—though they all come back to Kit Noonan, a scholar of Inuit art who is out of a job and in an emotional rut. Kit’s wife believes that he must solve the mystery of his paternity in order to move forward; Kit’s mother got pregnant as a teenager, and she’s always refused to reveal the identity of her young lover. (It doesn’t take long for readers to learn that Kit’s father is Malachy Burns, the witty and enigmatic music critic who died from AIDS in Three Junes.) To solve the mystery, Kit travels to the house of his ex-stepfather—a woodsy, tender Vermont ski instructor—and eventually on to Provincetown for a charged weekend with people who knew Malachy.
Knowledge of Three Junes isn’t a prerequisite to enjoying this companion novel, though readers who liked the National Book Award winner will be satisfied to find out what’s happened to Fenno in the years since Malachy’s death. (Sadly, Fenno’s charming West Village bookshop has gone the way of Border’s. His parrot Felicity is still very much in the picture.) Glass is skilled at capturing how people relate to one another, and her descriptions of grief are especially piercing, as when a mother reflects on the passage of time since her child’s death. The distance from the tragedy has only moved her pain “to a more distant room; when she enters that room, though she does less so often, the pain still blinds her with its keen, diamondlike brilliance.”
My one quibble with And the Dark Sacred Night is the blandness of Kit compared to the rich and varied supporting cast; I was more invested in the interior lives of the other characters than in Kit’s midlife crisis, which launches the book. Be patient and keep reading. It’s worth it to watch how the story unfolds. Like life, the plot can be wretched and wonderful—indeed, dark yet sacred.