A SUDDEN LIGHT by Garth Stein

A SUDDEN LIGHT

KIRKUS REVIEW

This monotonous multigenerational tale of a family and its timber empire will have the reader sawing logs in no time.

The narrator, Trevor Riddell, is the 14-year old scion of the cursed Riddell family. It is 1990, and he and his father, Jones Riddell, have returned to the North Estate, the family’s 200-acre ancestral home on Puget Sound, to come to grips with their respective mom problems. Trevor is trying to repair his parents’ unraveling marriage, while Jones is trying to come to grips with his mother’s mysterious death. The remaining inhabitants of the decaying mansion are Grandpa Samuel, the intermittently senile, perpetually drunk paterfamilias, and Serena, Jones’ seductive sister, a Tennessee Williams–heroine wannabe. Dysfunction doesn’t begin to describe this tortured family. The curse goes back to Elijah Riddell, Trevor’s great-great­-grandfather, whose sins are visited on his successors. But Elijah’s evil actions are never described in any detail other than vague references to destroying forests and ruining lives. Likewise, the author takes for granted the supernatural qualities of the house. When ghosts finally make their appearances, it's as preposterous as the rest of this tall tale. Trevor’s oddly modern gay great-uncle Benjamin is the lead ghost. For almost 400 pages, the characters obsess about whether the rotting mansion should be sold or torn down. The fatal flaw here is the author’s decision to have a teenager narrate this complex, sprawling story; though a prologue indicates that Trevor is recalling it from adulthood, he stays essentially within his teen perspective, and no matter how precocious he was, he couldn't possibly have had the vantage point to describe the whole situation. To solve that problem, the author supplements Trevor’s knowledge with letters, diaries and ghostly speeches that magically pop up where explication is needed.

A repetitive, poorly conceived work of pulp fiction. Frankly, we’re stumped.

Pub Date: Sept. 30th, 2014
ISBN: 9781439187036
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2014




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