Note: The Author Visits received a copy of A Sudden Light in exchange for an honest review.
Reviewer: Kristin Lundgren on behalf of The Author Visits
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A family confronts long-buried secrets as it struggles for forgiveness and redemption in this breathtaking story set against the majestic beauty of the Pacific Northwest.
In the summer of 1990, fourteen-year-old Trevor Riddell gets his first glimpse of Riddell House. Built from the spoils of a massive timber fortune, the legendary family mansion is constructed of giant whole trees and is set on a huge estate overlooking Seattle’s Puget Sound. Trevor’s bankrupt parents have begun a trial separation, and his father, Jones Riddell, has brought Trevor to Riddell House with a goal: to join forces with his sister, Serena, dispatch the ailing and elderly Grandpa Samuel to a nursing home, sell off the house and property for development, divide up the profits, and live happily ever after.
But as Trevor explores the house’s secret stairways and hidden rooms, he discovers a spirit lingering in Riddell House whose agenda is at odds with the family plan. Only Trevor’s willingness to face the dark past of his forefathers will reveal the key to his family’s future.
A Sudden Light is a spellbinding, atmospheric work rich with unconventional characters, scenes of transcendent natural beauty, and unforgettable moments of emotional truth that reflect Garth’s outsized capacity for empathy and keen understanding of human motivation.
A Sudden Light by Garth Stein is a compelling coming of age story that immediately pulls you into the magnificent setting of the great Pacific Northwest, into the heavily forested land of timber barons and their mansions, closed societies, and ghosts who haunt.
Set in 1990 before technology changed the way we live and relate to others permanently, fourteen year old Trevor Riddell arrives in Seattle with his dad to spend the summer. His parent's marriage has hit a snag and they've decided on a trial separation. Trevor wants nothing more than to save his parent's marriage and this desire serves as a catalyst for the journey he embarks on with his father which not only changes his life but the lives of those around him.
Trevor's dad has a plan. Along with the help of Trevor's aunt Serena, his father plots to put his senile grandfather in a nursing home and sell off the old log family mansion to developers, split the money and move on with his life.
I found myself drawn into Trevor's world immediately. From the opening scene, as Trevor and his father drive up to the guard house, you sense an adventure is about to unfold as the gates open and invite Trevor into the folds of the massive domain known as the Riddell House. The long drive forges deeper and deeper into an enclave of seclusion, setting almost a dark, medieval tone as the images of the massive unkempt log mansion are painted on the pages.
Some have felt that using the view point of a fourteen year old boy limits the depth of emotion, but frankly speaking, I feel the view point was refreshing, almost endearing.
Stein is a deft writer, using words as an artist uses paint to draw images which makes the reader's journey all that more pleasurable. Trevor's point of view adds that much needed dimension of childish inquisitiveness, the excitement of the hunt and the quest for answers that wouldn't be nearly as entertaining from an adult's point of view. Trevor is painted as precocious but because he is wise beyond his years, perhaps even so than his own father, makes his character view point that much more endearing. And a child's eternal optimism in reviving his parent's failing marriage is the perfect vehicle to set the stage for the unraveling of secrets that must be addressed before the Riddell family can move forward.
Using the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, the rich historical background, and the paranormal entities, Stein weaves this tale around a family with secrets long buried, that must come to light for the healing process to begin. The giant house of huge ancient felled timber on the verge of decay serves as a metaphor for the dysfunction within the Ridell family and the secret passage ways and mysterious rooms serves as a reminder of those secrets that tore the family apart.
The legacy of vast tracts of ruined land for the sake of money that underpins the house and family history is integral to the story. Trevor must unravel his family's past in order to reach a satisfying, if unexpected and poignant, conclusion in the present and take the family out of the darkness of the past in the sudden light.
Garth's gift for story telling using a fourteen year old boy's flashbacks to a pivotal time in his life and that of his family's is unique not in its dysfunction but in its ability to weave the lives of its readers and their own secrets into a storyline touched with elements of the paranormal to make A Sudden Light a unique read.
My rating: A 5 star must read for fans of Stein and those who enjoy a good mystery set against a rich landscape propelled by secrets that haunt in more ways than one.
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