Garth Stein’s A Sudden Light is a multigenerational family saga, a ghost story, a historical novel, and ultimately the story of one boy’s attempt to fix his parents’ marriage. Fourteen-year-old Trevor Riddell’s parents are separating and he finds himself with his father, returning to the family mansion outside Seattle. The name Riddell used to mean something in the Northwest, before family fortunes declined. Trevor’s father, Jones, has returned to sell the house, but finds that circumstances are far more complicsated than they seem. Trevor takes it upon himself to research the family history in a desperate attempt to bring his parents back together, and discovers there are many secrets lurking at the heart of Riddell House.
Stein’s novel breathes atmosphere. This is an off-kilter and beautifully strange world. Riddell House itself is a delightful creation—a house built of giant whole trees, beautiful but rotten. It is inhabited by the last of the Riddell line—Trevor’s Grandpa Samuel, seemingly lost to Alzheimers, and his manipulative Aunt Serena. This is a broken family, rich in secrets and history. Trevor’s father is equally lost, never quite able to escape his childhood at Riddell House, having been exiled at sixteen after his mother’s death. Trevor feels his way through these secrets and discovers ghosts and broken promises along the way.
Garth Stein has a gift for prose, drawing the reader into a world of his own devising filled with a brooding cast of eccentrics. For all the ghosts and buried secrets, it keeps a surprisingly human and emotionally real story at its core. A Sudden Light is an ambitious work that manages to not only reach, but sometimes even exceed its ambitions.
*Received a Copy from NetGalley for Review