Book Review: A Sudden Light by Garth Stein
by Garth Stein
Simon & Schuster, 2014
Do you believe in ghosts? Or, if not, are you willing to suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy a story?
There be ghosts in A Sudden Light, and they help to tell a story of redemption and faith, a tale of when to take and when to give back.
If you feel you don’t have enough, you hold on to things, he said. But if you feel you have enough, you let go of things. —Grandpa Samuel in A Sudden Light
Trevor Riddell is the fourteen-year-old descendant of a Seattle lumber baron, Elijah Riddell, who took all he could from clear-cut west coast forests and then repented before his death. Elijah willed his descendants to give his land back to nature, but when do children ever listen to their fathers? Family being what it is, several stagnant and acrimonious generations pass. By the time Trevor arrives at the vast wooden mansion of his great-great-grandfather, he must deal with thwarted ghosts and unfulfilled family members—the spiritual and the nonspiritual— in his quest for the truth.
How do we reconcile the differences between what we see and what we know?
Trevor travels to the Riddell estate with his father, Jones, who is returning there for the first time in decades. They are greeted by Jones’ sister, Serena, and his aging father, Grandpa Samuel. Serena is a weak spot in the story, her motivations not perfectly clear and her intentions questionable.
But the grand wooden house itself is an interesting character. Trevor explores the hidden passageways and secret staircases of an estate that seems, magically, to live and breathe.
Perhaps that’s what life is about . . . The search for magic. The search for the inexplicable. Not in order to explain it, or contain it. Simply in order to feel it. Because in that recognition of the sublime, we see for a moment the entire universe in the palm of our hand. And in that moment, we touch the face of God.
And that is what this novel is really all about. Each strange encounter opens Trevor’s mind to new possibilities and an underlying interconnectedness.