A Sudden Light

9781439187036_p0_v3_s260x420Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain was one of my favorite books, and I kept waiting for another of his quirky stories with a philosophical edge.  In A Sudden Light, Garth involves the reader in a debate of sustaining natural resources in the Pacific Northwest vs land development, while cleverly disguising his mission in a charming tale of a family legacy.  Just in time for Halloween, the story also involves ghosts – some real, some contrived – and a fourteen year old hero who saves the day.  For book club fans, Stein includes a list of questions at the end, and enough fodder in the characters and plot to sustain a lively discussion –  a sample to tease you: “How do we reconcile the differences between what we see and what we know?”

Trevor and his father, Jones, bankrupt from his boat-building business and recently separated from his English wife, travel to the old family home, a nineteenth century estate in the hills of Seattle, to convince Trevor’s grandfather to sell the valuable land and the crumbling house.  Jones with his sister Serena are determined to move their father, who has shown signs of dementia, into a retirement home. They plan to sell the valuable property to developers who will subdivide the land and build “McMansions.”

With its secret stairs and hidden panels in the walls, the house is an ideal place for a haunting.  Ghosts of past inhabitants are frequently heard or seen, including Trevor’s grandmother and one of his great-grandfather’s sons, Ben, a passionate environmentalist who swore to atone for his family’s destruction of the Northwest forests for profit.  Trevor is torn – he wants the money from the sale of the land to get his parents back together but he is also determined to help Ben, an Oscar Wilde version of the Canterville Ghost who frequently appears to  him to champion the return of the property to nature.

Stein’s descriptions of the peace brought by the natural land, the trees, the birds – are all reminiscent of Thoreau and John Muir, whom he invokes frequently.  He delivers the beauty of the surroundings with thoughtful metaphors – ““hummingbirds are to humans as humans are to trees.”  But his story focuses on the family drama as he reveals their history with Trevor’s dreams, overheard conversations, and reminiscences from Serena and Trevor’s grandfather.

The ending is not predictable but satisfying, and I thoroughly enjoyed the book; but then I have a penchant for a well told romantic ghost story with pithy phrases.

My Review of: The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Bone Clocks

9781400065677_p0_v2_s260x420The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell is one crazy novel.  With all the hype about this new book, I was determined to get through it, but the sudden plot changes had me confused and anxious.    Pico Iyer’s review in the New York Times helped: “You may not believe in telepathy, second sight or reincarnation, but if you enter Mitchell’s universe you can’t not believe in them either.”

The story begins with teenage Holly Sykes running away from home to escape a mother who doesn’t understand her and a boyfriend who has betrayed her.  Her plan is to stay away just long enough to make them miss her.  According to Iyer’s review, Holly jumps forward from 1984 to 1991, 2004, 2015, and far into 2025, before the apocalypse in 2043.  I never made it past 1991.  Although Mitchell may be a great writer and the book is long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, Iyer’s review convinced me the 624 pages were too much for me.  I downloaded the book to my iPad; maybe I’ll tackle it again later.

Have you read it yet?

Iyer’s Review of The Bone Clocks – “Juggling Worlds”

Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett

9780525953098_p0_v1_s260x420A long plane ride and Ken Follett’s Edge of Eternity were perfect together.  Both felt as though they would never end.  Although Follett was rehashing well-known and recent history – from the turbulent sixties to the eighties, with a glimpse of the present –  his clever attention to the details of the lives of those fictitious supporting characters  – the betrayed East German teacher Rebecca Hoffman; George Jakes, the black activist lawyer in Robert Kennedy’s Justice Department; Dimka Dvorkin, a young aide to Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis – offered viable glimpses of how the world may have worked behind the facade, and wanting to know how those lives turned out kept me reading.

Has it really been fifty years since the Kennedy assassination?  The events roll slowly and sometimes painstakingly through Follett’s epic –  almost twelve hundred pages.  The story is not compelling and I fell asleep at times, despite my frequent forays into google to check his facts.  Who was the President when the Berlin Wall came down?  Did you answer Reagan ? (Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall.”)  Follett sets the record straight, and offers his own explanation for the spinning of facts.

I’ve forgotten the story line of the first two books in this series (The Century Trilogy), but Follett conveniently offers some flashback to each family’s history.  No matter; the story of the modern day descendants stands on its own, and Follett’s marathon trilogy is finally finished.

Now I can look forward to another marathon read – the next Jeffrey Archer book – number 5 in the Clifton Chronicles is coming in February.

Related Review:  The Fall of Giants