Friday, September 5, 2014

And the Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass

The past is like the night: the dark yet sacred. It's the time when most of us sleep, so we think of the day as the time we really live, the only time that matters, because the stuff we do by day somehow makes us who we are....But there is no day without night, no wakefulness without sleep, no present without past. They are constantly somersaulting over each other. 

These lines come late in Julia Glass's new novel and form a central theme in the book. Its main character, Kit, has never known his biological father and seems adrift as a result. He is in a troubled marriage, has lost his tenure-track professorship because he couldn't finish his dissertation, and is obviously despondent. His wife encourages him to seek out the father he never knew. Thus begins a journey motif in which our hero finds his true identity. The journey, of course, is fraught with difficulties.

First, his mother has consistently refused to disclose the name of his father. The reader is aware of his identity by page 6 through a flashback to a summer arts camp. There, Daphne, a talented cellist, has fallen in love with another young musician at the camp. It is none other than a 17 year old Malachy--the boy who eventually becomes the acerbic art critic we discovered in Glass' first novel, The Three Junes. Similarly, the reader knows this will be a doomed love affair because Malachy is gay. Daphne becomes pregnant, thus dashing her hopes of becoming a concert cellist. But wounding her more deeply is the rejection she feels from Malachy, who wants nothing to do with her or the child.

As the now forty-something Kit searches for his father, he reconnects with the man Daphne marries when he is nine. Jasper is a larger-than-life outdoorsman who lives in Vermont. Kit remembers the cabin where he spent his formative years, suffering through his skiing lessons with his ski-instructor stepdad.  He stays loyal to Jasper when his mother leaves her husband to marry another and start a second family. It is not clear why, as an adult living in New Jersey, he has broken his ties with his stepfather--the man who adopted and raised him as his own.

In an attempt to help Kit, Jasper begins researching his biological family with the scant information Daphne once revealed.  And he strikes gold. 

To reveal more would ruin the surprise for readers. Suffice it to say that both Fenno McLeod (Malachy's bookseller friend, now in his late fifties) and Malachy's mother, Lucinda (in her eighties) become major characters in the book. We finally get the back story to Malachy's life before and during his battle with AIDS.

And the Dark Sacred Night is about roads not taken, the consequences of youthful mistakes, and ultimately, about forgiveness.

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