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October Light Paperback – October 27, 2005

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Product Details

  • Series: New Directions Paperbook
  • Paperback: 440 pages
  • Publisher: New Directions (October 27, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811216373
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811216371
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,139,383 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


A sublime entertainment. -- Philadelphia Enquirer

Dazzling…profound…superb…as rewarding as it is entertaining. -- Los Angeles Times

Rollicking, ribald, truly imaginative the way Dickens, for example, is imaginative and real. -- Washington Post Book World

[Gardner is] America's great lost novelist….reads as freshly today as it must have in 1976. -- The Tennessean, Brian J. Buchanan

From the Inside Flap

A story of an old man and an old woman--brother and sister--living together on a farm in Vermont. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

This book needs a major proof reading and editing.
Amazon Customer
I totally disagree; I absolutely hated this book and am sorry I wasted my time reading through the 440 pages in the hopes it would get better.
Linda Linguvic
They were little people, and I just couldn't identify with them.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

83 of 87 people found the following review helpful By G. Bestick VINE VOICE on August 18, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
On the surface, nothing much happens in October Light. Crusty Vermont farmer James Page chases his older sister upstairs and locks her in her bedroom. Subsisting on apples and the trashy novel she finds on her nightstand, Sally refuses to come out until their argument gets resolved. Ultimately, it does. Yet within these narrow confines, the novel encompasses the play of nature on the senses, the politics of change, and the ways in which memory, loss and guilt light up the synapses until they wink like fireflies on a soft June evening.

Sally and James are feuding over Sally's autonomy. She's moved into James' house because she's outlived her money and has nowhere to go. It's the mid seventies, and James has holed up in his tumbledown farmhouse to fight a rear guard action against trashy modernity and moral relativism. Sally's more progressive. She watches TV (until James blasts it to smithereens with his shotgun) and seriously believes that Democrats are people too. Sally won't be enslaved by James' rigidity and rages, and won't come down until he agrees to give her breathing room.

The book Sally reads in her room is called Smugglers of Lost Souls' Rock. This novel within a novel takes up about a quarter of October Light. It's a tale of marijuana smugglers off the coast of California; it's chock full of orgies, flying saucers and more barroom philosophizing about man's fate than any novel can bear. Fortunately some pages are missing, so we're spared some of the existential exegeses, but not enough. Gardner uses Sally's reaction to Smugglers of Lost Soul's Rock, to tackle what constitutes truth in a work of fiction; the faux novel also serves as a brilliant, hilarious send up of the seventies' version of truthiness.
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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful By S. G. Allen on June 14, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I no longer give 5 stars to everything I like, but this is a book I return to again and again. It is a great 5 star book by a great 5 star author and a brilliant teacher (see The Art of Fiction). I hope it will be reissued so that more people can discover a gem of twentieth century writing. Do whatever you can to find a copy. It's a true hoot. Hopefully your local library will still have October Light in the collection.
John Gardner has created two great characters in 72 year old James Page and his older sister Sally Abbot. James, born on the fourth of July, is fiercely independent. His life's work has been caring for "dumb animals: horses, dairy cows, bees, pigs, chickens, and, indirectly, men. " James is truly shocked by Sally's disrespect for his opinions on the state of things in general. "Though he was never a great talker--certainly not in comparison to her, she could lecture your arm off--he knew a signifcant fact or two, knew by thunder, a truth or two--a truth or two that was still worth getting out of bed for."
Sally Page, a widow, has moved in with her brother James, because once the well to do wife of a dentist, she is now destitute. Sally does not adapt well to James' idea of a good life (one without television, nuclear energy, opinionated females, or home improvements.) "She'd preached him a sermon off television about the Equal Rights Amendment. He'd been amazed by all she said--shocked and flabbergasted, though he knew from magazines that there were people who believed such foolishness." They shake each other up, "She'd seemed as astonished by it all as he was, so astonished to discover what he thought that he almost came to doubt it," and ultimately survive themselves and each other.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A. C. Walter on September 29, 2005
Format: Paperback
Here, in one of Gardner's finest novels, domestic warfare between two spirited, overly-opinionated senior citizens--brother and sister--brings chaos to their community of friends and family. Gardner's story says much about that vital tension at the heart of American life--the conflict between tradition and progressivism--and about the difficult business of pushing beyond this conflict to find a place where one can stand, secure and untroubled, beneath the haunted, holy light that comes with an autumn in the Land of the Free.
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76 of 99 people found the following review helpful By 2things@once on February 6, 2009
Format: Paperback
It's been a while since I've read a book that I was so happy to finish because NOW I DON'T HAVE TO READ IT ANYMORE! Let me count the ways I disliked this book. Oh, wait, we don't have enough time.

Set in rural Vermont, the story centers on an elderly brother and sister who live in the same house. To be precise, it's James house and he's none-too-happy to have his opinionated, liberal sister living under his roof. Sally, the widow of a successful dentist, is now financially strapped, forced to live with her stubborn, conservative brother, a man whose dislike of television leads him to take his shotgun to her TV set.

Sibling tensions reach a crisis point when James chases Sally upstairs, brandishing a piece of firewood and threatening to kill her. She locks herself in her bedroom and refuses to come out, living off of apples stored in the attic while passing the time reading a trashy paperback novel. Unfortunately, their battle of wills lasts for over 400 pages.

October Light won the National Book Critics Circle Award and I gather it's a well-regarded piece of American literature but its brilliance was completely lost on me. I disliked just about everything in this book. The characters were either annoying or uninteresting, the story didn't pique my interest in the least, and the writing was nothing special. Worst of all, I detested the story-within-a-story device that only served to interrupt and draw-out the torture of reading this book. Obviously, it was supposed to have some relevance to the characters and their relationships in the main story, but I didn't see it. What's more, I didn't care and ended up skimming large sections.

By the time I finished October Light, I felt as if I'd spent a week cooped up with horrible relations whom I couldn't wait to flee.
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