Julia Glass’s latest book strikes right to the core of personal identity. How do solidify our sense of who we are if we don’t know where we came from? In what ways can we take our place in the universe if our knowledge of our past is incomplete?
Kit Noonan has reached a fork in the road. Underemployed with no clear sense of purpose, he is floundering, until his wife urges him to take some time away to work out the secret of his father’s identity. That search leads him back to his stepfather Jasper in Vermont – a self-sufficient outdoorsman who effectively raised him along with two stepbrothers. Eventually, the journey brings him to Lucinda, the elderly wife of a stroke-ravaged state senator and onward to Fenno (from Julia Glass’s first book) and his husband Walter.
Through all this, Kit discovers the enigma of connections and which connections prevail. As one character states, “..the past is like the night: dark yet sacred. It’s the time of day when most of us sleep, so we think of the day as the time we really live, the only time that matters, because the stuff we do by day somehow makes us who we are. We feel the same way about the present…. But there is no day without night, no wakefulness without sleep, no present without past.”
The biggest strength of this novel – by far – is the beautifully rendered portrayal of characters. Kit, Jasper, Lucinda and her family, Feeno and Walter – even Kit’s twins – are so perfectly portrayed that they could walk off the pages. As a reader, I cared about every one of them and – as the book sequentially goes from one character to another – I felt a sense of loss from temporarily leaving him or her behind.
The only weakness was an overabundance of detail (scenes, back story, etc.), which robbed me of using my imagination to “fill in the blanks.” While vaguely discomforting, this story is so darn good and the writing is so darn strong that I was glad to be immersed in its world for the several days I was reading. Kit’s journey and his recognition of what “family” really means has poignancy and authenticity. 4.5.
on April 13, 2014
I won't go into the plot summary as a number of reviews here explain that aspect of this novel quite well, but just wanted to join those saying they were completely swept up by Glass's emotional, historical, and cultural intelligence; her moving, complex characters; and her often luminous prose. While I had to think back to some of the details of Malchy Burns' life and death — as well as Walter's (from "Three Junes" and "The Whole World Over"), I felt as if I were trying to think back to people I'd briefly known intimately 15 years ago and had to remind myself of who they were and who we have become. Glass made me want to reread her earlier books — which says a lot as I'm often someone who reads a lot but only tends to reread books I teach. Glass is completely an adult author in the way she handles people — and I love that about her novels. She's compassionate. She's hopeful that people can at least try to become their best selves. She's unafraid to explore a range of different personalities, members of both genders and multiple generations — all why addressing how people have behaved in certain moments of our shared history — behaviors they may regret in hindsight, or at least need to revisit and rethink. She also touches on so many people going through experiences similar to those I know — former professors now living as adjuncts while trying to pay the bills in New Jersey, young people who know very little about AIDS (let alone life before technology), musicians barely earning a living, book store owners who can now longer function in Manhattan, mountain climbers who need new hips and new relationships. Factor in that she's got parts of this novel set in a music camp in the Berkshires, the Village, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Provincetown, I feel as if she's writing about people I might know — and doing it extraordinarily well.
While I acknowledge there might be a few spots where not everyone wants to suspend disbelief — that's our right as readers — I just got pretty upset reading a truly snarky and unfair review in the Wall Street Journal. I felt like it was dissing me for loving Glass.
All I really know is that in the end there aren't THAT many wonderful books and If I were writing novels, I'd love to attempt one like this. Since I'm a fiction reading obsessive — and am hungry for novels that capture our zeitgeist as I'm experiencing it — I always feel blessed to find such a satisfying read.
Big Julia Glass fan here. But not as enthralled as I expected to be by her latest novel, the story of a thirtysomething husband and father of twins who's lost his job and whose wife thinks that what he should do, now that he has the time, is to search for the father he never knew and put an end to that gaping hole in his life story once and for all. Christopher, known as "Kit," takes her up on it.
All these many years, his mom has pointblank refused to tell Kit anything at all about the dad he never had and will not be persuaded to do otherwise. So, while Ms.Glass is filling us in on the Mom & Dad backstory, Kit takes to the road to go visit his former stepfather, Jasper, the nice guy whom Mom long ago divorced, to see what info he might be able to pry out of him. After Kit's couple of weeks or so with Jasper, his two visiting sons and some snow storms, Jasper decides to go against his ex wife's wishes and try to help Kit by secretly putting in a call to Kit's paternal grandmother to see if she and her family would be willing to meet with their grandson. Turns out she is more than willing. Delighted, in fact. As is Dad's old pal Fenno MacLeod, whom many of you will remember as the leading man in Glass's National Book Award winning novel, "Three Junes." Soon plans for a family reunion are underway.
At heart, this is an interesting story--but as a very prolonged novel bogged down with incredibly long and detailed accounts of the lives and thoughts of its relatively ordinary characters? Not so much. Took me a little over a week to plow through what would normally for me have taken just a couple or three days.
Kit Noonan is an unemployed professor of Inuit art history. He did not receive tenure at the college where he was teaching. Not only did he not publish, but he was not good at networking with others. He did receive a job offer in Las Vegas but he and his wife Sandra chose not to accept it, hoping he'd get an offer nearer to the east coast. Unfortunately, he did not. They have fraternal twins and Kit is floundering. Most likely he is suffering from depression.
Sandra urges Kit to search out his birth father. His mother, Daphne, raised him by herself until she married Jasper. Jasper, who had two boys of his own who were much older than Kit, adopted him. Kit sets off to see Jasper in order to find his roots and discover who his biological father is.
This is a novel of small events with large implications; of family roots and their impact on life. While I loved Three Junes and The Widower's Tale, I can't say the same thing about this book. Most of the time, I found myself bored and wanting it to be over. Even though I was familiar with the characters from the previous novel, Three Junes, I just didn't care enough about the way they were presented here.
on April 22, 2014
The first time I finished reading THREE JUNES (Julia Glass's first book, a kind-of/sort-of prequel to this book, AND THE DARK SACRED NIGHT), it was 2am. I'd stayed up half the night, because I just couldn't bear to put that book down and part with those characters, whom I'd grown to love over the past 300 or so pages. And as soon as I was done, I opened the book back up to page 1 and started reading it over again.
I'd never done that with a book before (or since). So when I heard that some of my favorite characters from THREE JUNES were going to make another appearance in this new book, of course AND THE DARK SACRED NIGHT made it to the top of my reading list. It didn't disappoint. It has been several years since I read THREE JUNES, so at first I couldn't remember who the overlap characters were supposed to be. But it soon all came flooding back to me, and I was able to relish in the familiar voices as well as get to know some fascinating new characters, too.
Julia Glass's books aren't so much about plot, exactly (though plenty happens). But she excels in drawing the quiet spaces between plot -- she draws the inner worlds of characters so precisely, so minutely, that you find yourself nostalgic for a world you've never known, or people you've never met, or places you'll probably never visit.
This is a master-work by one of the best novelists writing today.
“And the Dark Sacred Night,” by Julia Glass, is a profoundly satisfying, character-driven novel with a simple story of everyday life at its core. The book swept me inside the interior lives of its four main characters, carried me through their present and into their past, and eventually, as soon as I got to the end, left me mourning the loss of these people I’d come to know and care about so intimately. I’ve read all of Glass’ novels with enormous pleasure. I am emotionally drawn to her body of work because everything she writes seems to increase my understanding about the interior lives of decent everyday people. For me, she is an astute psychologist of the human mind and a master literary craftsman of the human soul.
This new novel is meticulously constructed around the theme of how the past informs the present; indeed, how knowing one’s past may be absolutely essential in order for the present to unfold without undue distortion.
In this novel, action in the present often demands a shift backward to reveal something in the past that helps the character understand and deal with what is happening in the moment, i.e., the past communicates with the present giving added value and meaning to the present. If readers are impatient, they may feel like they are being pulled away from the arc of the present day plot into an onslaught of unnecessary background stories. But trust that each and every story from the past is necessary to the thematic scope of this novel and its affecting message.
There is a constant forward and backward motion within this novel. As a result, the arc of the present-day plot seems to be delivered in slow motion: each action forward in time, is accompanied by one or more lengthy memories from the past. Many readers may find this annoying, but it is an essential part of Glass’ carefully laid out plans in support her theme.
This book demands careful reading. No amount of detail within the plot is insignificant. Every dip into the past relates directly to what is happening, or will happen in the future. This is not a book where you’ll be able to skim the back-story in order to rush on with the present day plot. If you do, you’ll be missing half the beauty and a great deal of the psychological wisdom.
This book deals with how a single event—in this case, the birth of a child to two teenagers forty years ago—can ripple through the lives of so many people, completely altering absolutely everything.
The child is Christopher “Kit” Noonan, affectionately called “Kitten” by his strong-willed single mother, Daphne Browning. The book begins at a low point in Kit’s life. He is forty, without a job, and his marriage is falling apart. Nothing he does brings him any satisfaction; he’s apathetic and full of hopelessness. His wife feels strongly that the reason behind her husband’s inability to get anything accomplished is that he has no roots; he does not know who his biological father is because his mother has consistently withheld that information. He desperately wants to know; he needs to know; without this knowledge, he is paralyzed in the present without a significant part of his past to inform him about who he is.
The plot is Kit’s quest to find his father and connect with his past and, once this is accomplished, we see how this knowledge informs, shapes, and properly assists him in moving forward with his life.
It’s a meditative and intellectually satisfying premise for a book. In Julia Glass’ skillful hands it becomes a contemplative and artful literary gem.
I loved this novel. I was sad to see it end. For me, this was definitely a five-star jewel; however, I will not be surprised if many of Glass’ fans are a little bit disappointed and see only four-stars where I see five. The author’s emphasis on theme over plot and how she chose to play it out within the highly structured design of this novel is also its weakness, and perhaps, the main reason why some fans may knock it down a notch in comparison with her best works. Regardless, this is one terrific literary novel and I recommend it with enthusiasm.
on April 28, 2014
Glass inhabits her characters so beautifully. I'd just finished re-reading Three Junes when I discovered this novel, and it was lovely to look at some familiar lives from a slightly different angle in this book. I continue to be awed by Glass's ability to convincingly write from the point of view of men and women of all ages and perspectives. More, please.
on April 4, 2014
And the Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass is a recommended novel for those who enjoy melodramatic family sagas, especially those that span several novels.
In And the Dark Sacred Night Kit Noonan is ordered by his wife, Sandra, to find out the identity of his birth father. Kit's mother, Daphne, has withheld the information from him for the 40 plus years since his birth. Currently Kit and Sandra are the parents of twins. Kit is an unemployed art history professor who is experiencing inertia, or more likely depression, since he lost his job. His marriage seems to be in trouble but his wife insists that discovering who his father is will be the key to pull him out of his funk.
Kit takes off to see Jasper, his stepfather and former husband to Daphne, at his home. Jasper was a father to Kit along with his own two boys and Kit turns to him to find the answers that Daphne refuses to share. Since Jasper promised Daphne he would keep her secret, he doesn't divulge everything he knows, but does give Kit a name to contact, which helps him continue his search for the truth.
The writing is quite good in And the Dark Sacred Night, but the plot left something to be desired for me. Perhaps it would have helped if I had read the first novel, Three Junes, which has characters that tie the two stories together - or perhaps not since this novel is said to be a stand alone novel. What I did feel was an overwhelming sensation that I was missing part of the story, some essential kernel of truth that would pull it all together into a fabulous sprawling tale of family ties, destiny, and forgiveness. Instead of that I was left with questions right at the start when a wife inexplicably sends her forty-something unemployed husband off to seek the identity of his true father because that will give him the answers he needs... even though they are apparently having marriage problems. It just didn't ring true to me. Additionally I could not understand why Daphne wouldn't just tell this adult man who his father was. There was no point in hiding the information from Kit.
Kit himself was a bore. I understand he has shouldered the great burden of this mystery for his whole life but at 40+ years old one would think he would have come to terms with it and be creating a life for himself. That said, the novel redeemed itself for me in other ways. I felt there was some great character development in many of the other characters and really liked them. The problem was, for me, Kit was the least intriguing character but the main character.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday for review purposes.
on May 10, 2014
I want to like this well meaning and well written novel more than I actually do. There is something very engaging about the premise and the OUTLINES of each of the main characters are well drawn but it is lacking some essential ingredient that I'm not sure I can put my finger on. It's almost as if the author understood that her main characters weren't filling in sufficient to the job, so she introduced more of them. The young man at its center arrives at his yearned for truth very conveniently and everyone just goes back where they came from ... what? One more thing: even a very good writer, and Ms. Glass is one, needs a good and competent EDITOR.
on October 12, 2014
Julia Glass is one of the very few authors who are on my "automatic purchase" list. I have found over and over again that her books are ones I will want to savor so a library loan isn't a good option. I also know that she writes books I want to re-read (pretty unusual for me), so owning them on my Kindle is a luxury I give to myself.
Three Junes: A novel is one of my all-time favorite novels. Since I automatically purchased this one, I didn't realize when I started reading that it gave the backstory of that novel. Please don't assume you need to have read that book to enjoy this one. And the Dark Sacred Night: A Novel stands perfectly well on its own.
Ms. Glass manages to write dense, slowly unfolding books that keep me glued to the page/kindle screen. This one took me quite a while to work my way through, but I savored it all from beginning to end and had no desire to rush it. Her forte is beautifully wrought characters that come alive in my mind and stay with me long after the book is completed. The characters in this story are some of the most interesting, well developed souls I have ever encountered on the printed page. If you enjoy a lot of action and suspense in your reading, this book probably isn't a good choice for you. If you gravitate toward slice-of-life prose that draws you into a different world, I can't speak highly enough of this, or any of her other, novels. It has inspired me to go back an re-read Three Junes: A novel. Loved, loved, loved it!