Wednesday, 09 April 2014 10:59
And the Dark Sacred Night
Julia Glass, 2014
In this richly detailed novel about the quest for an unknown father, Julia Glass brings new characters together with familiar figures from her first two novels, immersing readers in a panorama that stretches from suburban New Jersey to rural Vermont and ultimately to the tip of Cape Cod.
Kit Noonan is an unemployed art historian with twins to help support and a mortgage to pay—and a wife frustrated by his inertia. Raised by a strong-willed, secretive single mother, Kit has never known the identity of his father—a mystery that his wife insists he must solve to move forward with his life. Out of desperation, Kit goes to the mountain retreat of his mother’s former husband, Jasper, a take-no-prisoners outdoorsman. There, in the midst of a fierce blizzard, Kit and Jasper confront memories of the bittersweet decade when their families were joined.
Reluctantly breaking a long-ago promise, Jasper connects Kit with Lucinda and Zeke Burns, who know the answer he’s looking for. Readers of Glass’s first novel, Three Junes, will recognize Lucinda as the mother of Malachy, the music critic who died of AIDS. In fact, to fully understand the secrets surrounding his paternity, Kit will travel farther still, meeting Fenno McLeod, now in his late fifties, and Fenno’s longtime companion, the gregarious Walter Kinderman.
And the Dark Sacred Night is an exquisitely memorable tale about the youthful choices that steer our destinies, the necessity of forgiveness, and the risks we take when we face down the shadows from our past. (From the publisher.)
• Birth—March 23, 1956
• Where—Boston, Massachusetts, USA
• Education—B.A., Yale College
• Awards—Tobias Wolff Award for Fiction, 1999; Nelson Algren
Fiction Awards, 1993, 1996, 2000; National Book Award for
• Currently—lives in New York, New York
After graduating from Yale with a degree in art, Julia Glass received a fellowship to study figurative painting in Paris. Upon her return, she moved to New York, where she became involved in the city's vibrant art scene, worked as a copy editor, and wrote the occasional magazine column. She had always been a good writer, but her energies were initially focused on an art career. Finally, the pull to write became too strong. Glass put down her paint brush and picked up her pen.
One of her earliest short stories, never published, was a semi-autobiographical piece called "Souvenirs." Loosely based on her experiences as a student traveling in Greece, the story was (by Glass's own admission) pretty formulaic. Yet, she found herself returning to it over the years, haunted by the faint memory of someone she had met on that trip: an older man whose wife had recently died.
Then, during the early 1990s, Glass experienced some serious setbacks in her life: Within the space of a few years, her marriage ended in divorce, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and her beloved younger sister—a dynamic woman with a seemingly wonderful life—committed suicide. Devastated by her sister's death, Glass turned to writing as a way of working through her grief and loss. Suddenly, the memory of the sad widower in Greece took on a melancholy resonance. She retrieved "Souvenirs" from her desk drawer for one final rewrite, expanded it to novella length, and spun it from a different point of view. Renamed "Collies," the story won the Pirate's Alley Faulkner Society Medal in 1999. It also became the first section of Glass's remarkable 2002 debut novel, the National Book Award winner Three Junes.
After a spate of "postmodern" bestsellers, Three Junes was like a breath of fresh air, harkening back to an era of more straightforward, gimmick-free writing. Spanning a period of ten years (1989-1999), the novel covers three disparate, event-filled months in the lives of a well-to-do Scottish family named McLeod, weaving a cast of colorful, interconnected characters into a tapestry of contemporary social mores that would do Glass's 19th-century role model George Eliot proud.
The same dazzling sprawl that distinguished her acclaimed debut has characterized Glass's subsequent efforts—rich, dense narratives that unfold from multiple points of view and illuminate the full, complicated spectrum of relationships (among parents and children, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, friends and lovers). In an interview with NPR, she explained her penchant for ensemble casts and panoramic multidimensional stories: "I see life as increasingly complex, vivid, colorful, crazy, chaotic. That's the world I write about...the world I live in."
From a 2002 Barnes & Noble interview:
• Glass's first published writing was a regular column on pets called "Animal Love" that ran in Glamour magazine for two years in the late eighties. Says Glass, "I grew up in a home where animals were ever-present and often dominated our lives. There were always horses, dogs, and cats, as well as a revolving infirmary of injured wildlife being nursed by my sister the aspiring vet. Without any conscious intention on my part, animals come to play a significant role in my fiction: in Three Junes, a parrot and a pack of collies; in The Whole World Over, a bulldog named The Bruce. To dog lovers, by the way, I recommend My Dog Tulip by J. R. Ackerley—by far the best 'animal book' I've ever read."
• She is an avid rug-hooker in her free time. She explains that "unlike the more restrictive needlepoint, this medium permits me to work with yarn in a fluid, painterly fashion." Several of her rugs were reproduced in a book called Punch Needle Rug Hooking, by Amy Oxford (Schiffer Books).
• Glass considers herself a "confirmed, unrepentant late bloomer." She explains, "I talked late, swam late, did not learn to ride a bike until college —and might never have walked or learned to drive a car if my parents hadn't overruled my lack of motivation and virtually forced me to embrace both forms of transportation. I suspect I was happy to sit in a corner with a book. Though I didn't quite plan it that way, I had my two sons at just about the same ages my mother saw me and my sister off to college, and my first novel was published when I was 46. This 'tardiness' isn't something I'm proud of, but I'm happy to be an inspiration to others who arrive at these milestones later than most of us do."
• When asked what book most influenced her life as a writer, here is how she responded:
I cannot imagine how many books I've read in my life so far — and to name a "favorite" would be impossible, but the most influential, hands down, was Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot, because, though it's certainly flawed, it's the book that put me to work writing fiction as an adult. As a child, and through college, I had always loved reading and writing, but the notion of "being a writer" wasn't one I thought much about pursuing; perhaps writing came so naturally to me from an early age that I took it for granted, saw it as a means rather than a possible "end," a life's labor unto itself. My professional sights were set on the visual arts; In college I majored in art, then won a fellowship to spend a year painting abroad after graduation, and then, like so many artists, found myself in New York City holding down a day job as a copy editor and painting at night. I was showing my work here and there, but I was also reading a great deal.
Having adored Middlemarch in college, I picked up Daniel Deronda—and fell so deeply in love with the experience of reading it that, now in my late twenties, I began to yearn to write fiction for the first time since high school. George Eliot's astonishingly beautiful use of language, her nearly contemptible yet ultimately captivating heroine—Gwendolen Harleth, who remains one of my favorite all-time characters—and the daring structure of the novel itself, the way it leaves major characters offstage for significant stretches, all made me think at length about what an extraordinary thing a book really is—and suddenly I wanted, fiercely, to be making up stories of my own. (Author bio and interview from Barnes & Noble.)
What does it mean to discover your father when you are older than he would ever be? Kit worries that he is unable to feel sad enough. Too often now, he wonders what it is he should feel.” The reader may have a similar reaction, never quite believing in these people or in what links them to one another. Part of this can be attributed to a loose authorial grip on character management.... Glass has her hands full keeping everyone on the page, let alone making significant connections among them. And in truth, significant connection rarely happens at family gatherings. These get-togethers really serve to find references in the past, update the present and smoke pipe dreams for the next generation
Carol Anshaw - New York Times Book Review
Glass's uneven new novel centers around 40-year-old Kit Noonan, an unemployed college professor who—against his mother Daphne's wishes—wants to track down Malachy Burns, the father he never knew (and a character from Glass's 2002 National Book Award-winning debut Three Junes).... [Some] sections ring with emotional truth while others feel precious.... This imperfect work will still reward loyal readers.
Winner of the National Book Award for her 2002 debut, Three Junes, Julia Glass takes another sympathetic look at the complexities of contemporary life in this novel about family secrets.... Examining complicated family relationships among several families whose lives intertwine in unexpected ways, this warm and engaging story about what it means to be a father will appeal to most readers. —Leslie Patterson, Rehoboth, Massachusetts
(Starred review.) Glass explores the pain of family secrets, the importance of identity, and the ultimate meaning of family.... Although Glass borrows characters from her National Book Award–winning Three Junes, it is not necessary to have read that previous book to enjoy this lovely, highly readable, and thought-provoking novel.
1. Kit’s wife, Sandra, tells him, “I think you need to move, I mean pry yourself free from a place that’s become so familiar you simply can’t see it” (p. 22). Have you ever come to a place in your life where you felt stuck? How did you resolve this?
2. Why do you think Daphne insists on keeping the name of Kit’s father a secret? Whom is she protecting?
3. Daphne tells Kits that he “does not get to know everything” just because he wants to. Do you think Daphne owes Kit the name of his father?
4. If you were Kit, do you think you could/would have waited so long to find your father? Do you think men and women have different attitudes toward “finding” their lost family connections?
5. Describe Kit and Daphne’s relationship. How does this change throughout the book?
6. Do you see any parallels between Kit’s relationship with Daphne and Malachy’s relationship with Lucinda? If you read Three Junes, what do you bring from that book about the latter relationship? Knowing what you know from this book, do you think you’d feel differently about either of those characters if you went back to reread Three Junes?
7. Daphne accepted Lucinda’s help with Kit for the first few years of his life. What do you think about her cutting off that connection so abruptly? Can you empathize with her reasons for doing so?
8. Lucinda has yearned for decades to reconnect with Kit. Do you think she should have done that on her own, without waiting for him to take the initiative? Or do you think the initiative always has to come from the child/grandchild?
9. “Things that make sense don’t always make sense” (p. 40). Jasper says this to Daphne in reference to her plan to move with Kit closer to her school. Do you think she is already planning to leave that marriage, or is Jasper missing important hints that he is already losing her?
10. What do you think about Daphne and Malachy’s relationship as teenagers at the music camp? How do you think the culture of the camp itself affects the way she feels about him?
11. Did you have a magical time or place in your life similar to that summer?
12. Malachy is a central figure in this work, but we cannot know what he felt or what he thought. How does this affect the people in the story? What do you think about his complete removal of himself from Daphne and Kit’s life—and his father’s tacit support of that distance?
13. Forgiveness is a prevalent theme. Discuss some of the characters who need to give and seek forgiveness in the book. Are some of the “crimes” they’ve committed unforgivable?
14. In your view, who has the most to forgive? Who most deserves forgiveness? Who most needs it?
15. Lucinda admits to herself that she loved Malachy more than her other children—but it’s clear they realize this. What do you think will happen, in the future, as Malachy’s “lost” son is absorbed into the family, especially after Lucinda’s death?
16. Lucinda gets mad at Zeke for hiding Malachy’s need to know of Kit, and gets mad at Jonathan for hiding his homosexuality from Malachy as well as from his parents. Do you think these secrets were justified?
17. At one point, a woman who was clearly a client of Lucinda’s at The House confronts her on the street and tells her that Lucinda ruined her life. What do you think about the work Lucinda did, inspired by her faith, to help young single mothers have and raise babies on their own in an era when they might have had other choices?
18. The Burnses’ barn, the Shed at the music camp, Jasper’s crow’s nest: All of these structures hold meaning for the characters involved. Are there places in your life that you feel as strongly about?
19. The character Fenno McLeod, the protagonist from Julia Glass’s novel Three Junes, returns as a key point of view near the end of the book. If you read that earlier novel, how does it feel to meet him again in this different context? What do you think about his changed circumstances and his relationship with Walter Kinderman (a pivotal character in Glass’s The Whole World Over)?
20. In the end, do you think Kit found what he was looking for?
21. When Daphne finally revisits the music camp, along with her second husband and Kit, do you think she is changed by facing down this fateful place in her past?
22. Similarly, do you think Fenno is changed by giving up the artifacts of Malachy that he has kept to himself, especially the box of letters and photos? How do you think Kit will respond to that gift?
23. Julia Glass fills her novels with vivid “cameo” characters, such as Loraina and Rayburn in Jasper’s part of the book, or Matthew in Lucinda’s. Do you have a favorite among these characters—or wish that some of them had been given larger roles?
24. What character in this story do you most identify with, and why?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)
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