Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Book Review: "And The Dark Sacred Night" by Julia Glass
Kit Noonan is an unemployed professor of art history with a strong interest in Inuit art. He was an excellent instructor but lost his job because he couldn't bring himself to finish his book, a condition of his continued employment. In fact, he can't seem to motivate himself to do much of anything but cook for his family and shake himself out of his daily paralysis to keep some basic routines. This inertia is having a tremendously negative effect on his marriage to Sandra, a strong-willed landscape architect.
Sandra believes that the reason Kit is afraid to move forward with his life is that he's stuck in the pastspecifically the fact that he doesn't know who his father is. Raised by a secretive, stubborn mother, Daphne, who refused to tell him who his father was or even share the circumstances of his conception, Kit has always been curious but has tamped down his desire to know where he came from for fear of causing trouble. So Sandra forces Kit out of their New Jersey home, encouraging him to seek answers from Jasper, the outdoorsman and former ski instructor whom his mother married when he was a young child, and was the only father figure he ever knew.
"To change direction, to go somewhere entirely new, maybe you need to know exactly where it is you came from in the first place. A secure foothold. Don't you think?"
Kit's time with Jasper reawakens feelings of nostalgia in both men, as well as stokes the resentment of both toward Daphne. Despite his promise to Daphne never to share the details of Kit's paternity, Jasper points Kit in the direction of Lucinda Burns, the wife of Vermont state senator Zeke Burns, a woman who has been dealing with her own grief for a number of years, and tried to find ways to carry on with her life the best she could. Lucinda has answers to Kit's questions, and leads him on a path of discovery that has tremendous ramifications in his life and for many others. (Even though some reviews of this book divulge more of the plot, I'm going to leave a little mystery for the readers.)
This is a moving and compelling book about the need to understand who you came from, the need for answers, the need to feel a part of something larger than yourself. It's also a book about the strength of relationships, how they can build us up and tear us down, even years after they've ended. It's about trust and sacrifice, guilt and pain, and the pull of family, those to whom we're related by blood and those we choose to make part of our family.
I really love the way Julia Glass writes, and it was good to revisit a few characters from some of her earlier books. Her characters are so nuanced, so complex, they draw you into their lives and you want to know everything about them and what makes them tick. The plot is at times tremendously emotional, at times tremendously frustrating because of the things left unsaid.
I enjoyed this book quite a bit, but interestingly enough, I found Kit's character to be the weak link of the book, even though he is the linchpin around which the other characters revolve. It was almost as if the inertia that Sandra accused him of translated into his character, because he seemed almost lifeless despite what was going on around him. However, this is still a beautifully written book worth reading, a book that will make you think and make you feeland maybe it might even make you a little emotional.