A Sudden Light: A Novel - Garth Stein

When I read The Art Racing in the Rain, I have to admit I was a little ambivalent going in. I mean, come on, a dog narrates it, right? But of course, like millions of others, I was hooked pretty much from the beginning. Garth Stein begins this book in the same way, hooking me with the promise of a crumbling old mansion, a lost family fortune, tense marital and sibling relations, and, most compellingly, a few old ghosts.


Again I was a little taken aback by the narrator — 14-year old Trevor Riddell — thinking he was too young to tell this story. But again, I fell right into the lilting, easy dialogue of these characters, with all of their charms and their dysfunction. The story has the lyricism and the pacing of an old-fashioned ghost story, with only a few interruptions from the modern world. Of course there is a present day story here, and there are real world problems that are addressed as the family decides their future. But while they are in this house, the rest of the world seems to exist more as a concept than as a reality, which creates a sort of timeless quality for the story.


I still stand by my initial thought that Trevor was too young a narrator, but Stein compensated for this by making him wise beyond his years. If the story had not been so well told, I may have argued about this (narrative cheating), especially since his naiveté in some areas did not jibe with his knowledge in others. There was also some very VC Andrews-like creepiness to the story that I could have done without, especially since it was laced with a Berenstain bears-ish, “Sister Serena, Brother Jones” that only made it worse. Maybe this is common for the place (Puget Sound), but around here it’s just a tad weird. But I am a grown-up, as much as I hate to admit it, so I try to look beyond these tiny details. All in all, it was a moving, lushly-told tale. I would also highly recommend the audio book, which is narrated beautifully by Seth Numrich. I can’t wait to see who Stein's next narrator is — I vote for a shoe, or a Parakeet — Run with it, Garth!