Tuesday, April 29, 2014

And the Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass

I swiftly tumbled into Julia Glass’s enticing portrait of Kit Noonan and his very domesticated life. Glass immediately captured me with Kit whose “only true occupation these days . . . is fatherhood; his only reason for getting up at this dismal hour is getting his children to school.” Kit, an unemployed art historian in his early forties, is a model father but at the same time he’s treading water in his marriage and his pursuit of employment. His wife wonders if his not knowing who his father is and his inability to challenge his mother to learn the man’s identity is causing his inertia. Unable to stand another moment of stasis she forces him to seek out his stepfather, Jasper, for possible clues.  Jasper is a typically nuanced Glass character, an aging ski bum running a resort, teaching kids to ski, and managing a dog sled team.  Kit arrives with an early blizzard that affords both men time to remember their joined past.  Jasper had promised Kit’s mother that he’d never give away her secret but instead he decides it’s time to connect Kit with Lucinda and Zeke Burns.

Lucinda Burns makes this novel sing.  Revered for her charity work helping young, single mothers and her support of her state senator husband, Lucinda is the grandmother we’d all love to have. Her husband’s recent stroke has her thinking more about her son, Malachy, a music critic who died of AIDS. Readers of Glass’s National Book Award winning novel, Three Junes, will recall Lucinda and Malachy as well as Fenno McLeod, Malachy’s long-time friend who also reappears in this novel. These characters lives soon intersect with Kit’s as he continues to learn about his father’s identity and his mother’s reasons for resisting his quest.

Soon Kit is united with his father’s family and I felt like I was with them in their awkward gathering with everyone jostling for position and searching for identity in a shifting world in a setting that hadn’t changed for generations.  I was deep in the rabbit hole which is why as a reader I was utterly devastated when Glass threw in a grenade of a plot device so abrupt and inconceivable that it made reading the last portion of the book almost impossible. But continue to read, I did and the reward was a sentimental, cloying ending that should have made me rejoice in what it means to be a father, to live in an imperfect family, and to forgive but instead left me yearning for the real Julia Glass to appear and call for a rewrite.

And the title, oh, the title is a clever homage to Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” with “the bright blessed day and the dark sacred night.” During couple’s therapy Fenno McLeod and his partner Walter’s therapist brings up the song and Walter says, “Well, I am definitely the day, and boy is he ever the night.” The therapist then notes that he must mean “that your past is like the night: dark yet sacred.”  I think Glass intended for readers to see each character’s journey as a way of honoring the dark past and heading into the light of day but for this reader, it simply never happened.

Summing it Up: This novel is as uneven as a cobblestone street in an ancient Greek city. The beginning two-thirds are vintage Glass with detailed sketches of real people living life and trying to find answers to what it means to be a family but the last third is its antithesis with a disastrous twist and a much-too-tidy ending.

Rating: 3 stars (The first portion of the book is a 5 but the ending barely rises to a 2 thus I’ll call it a 3.)
Category: Fiction, Grandma’s Pot Roast
Publication date: April 1, 2014
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