Monday, October 15, 2018

Book Review: "Soon the Light Will Be Perfect" by Dave Patterson

Dave Patterson's Soon the Light Will Be Perfect is spare, beautiful, and haunting. It's one of those books that feels a little like a ticking time bomb, because while everything that happens seems relatively benign, there's an underlying sense of tension that makes you wonder when, or if, everything is going to explode. But that doesn't detract at all from its appeal.

A 12-year-old boy and his family live in rural Vermont at the start of the Gulf War. For the first time in a long time, things are stable for their family—they finally have enough money to move out of the trailer park (which dooms you to ostracism, as even his fellow students in the gifted program at school want nothing to do with trailer park kids) and live in a home of their own.

It's not quite a comfortable existence, in that they still have to watch every penny, but with their father's job at a weapons manufacturing plant, things finally seem to be going their way. The boy's 15-year-old brother is rebellious, experimenting with girls, drugs, cigarettes, and mischief, but he still serves as an altar boy at their local church, so all is not lost. And then their mother is diagnosed with cancer, and everything starts to fall apart.

This is a family for whom religion is tremendously important, and as their mother's illness worsens, they depend more and more on their church. Whether it's attending anti-abortion rallies, which get increasingly more disturbing, or watching the members of the church pray for their mother's recovery, the boy doesn't quite understand the power of religion, but he wants it to work for his mother. (A segment where he finds his confirmation saint and tries to emulate him is a disturbing and emotional one.)

This is the story of a boy on the cusp of young adulthood, even if being an adult certainly doesn't seem all it's cracked up to be. When he meets a young girl named Taylor, he is intrigued by the way she seems so much more mature and worldly than he does, even if she may be only a year or two older than him. But he quickly realizes that Taylor's bravado is a mask for something else, although he isn't sure how to help her, or if she really wants his help.

Soon the Light Will Be Perfect is a poignant story about a family in the midst of crisis, in which two siblings are forced to essentially raise themselves without any real supervision or explanation of all that is falling apart around them. They toy with rebellion but truthfully want a "normal" life back—that is, anything that doesn't send their family back to the trailer park. It's a novel about family, about belief, about realizing your parents don't have it any more together than you do at times, but you still rely on them.

Patterson is a tremendously self-assured writer, and it's hard to believe this is his debut novel. At times it moved a little slower than I liked, and I felt like things were a little more graphic than they needed to be at times, but I couldn't pull myself away from the book, even though I read it expecting everything might go horribly awry at any second.

Soon the Light Will Be Perfect is the first real glimpse of Patterson's talent, and it's worthwhile to read. I can't wait to see what's next.

NetGalley and HARLEQUIN – Trade Publishing (U.S. & Canada)/Hanover Square Press provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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