Monday, May 5, 2014

And the Dark Sacred Night, by Julia Glass

Kit Noonan is a 40-year-old art history professor and father of twins, whose passivity is driving his wife Sandra crazy. She posits that his underlying problem is not knowing who his father is--his mother Daphne has always refused to answer any questions about his paternity. Perhaps more to get him out of the house than to solve this particular puzzle, she sends him on a road trip to discover his father's identity. Aided by his first stepfather Jasper, who lives up a mountain, runs sled dogs, and helps run a ski resort, Kit is able to track down his paternal grandmother Lucinda and learn that his father Malachy Burns met and impregnated his mother at music camp in high school (their coupling was something of an "accident," as Malachy was gay); Malachy became the music critic for the New York Times. He died in the early years of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s (and in Glass's novel Three Junes--several characters here are "crossovers from that earlier book).

Glass uses multiple narrators--Kit, Jasper, Daphne, Lucinda, and Malachy's friend Fenno--which gives diverse perspectives but also results in the characters being fairly thinly drawn. Daphne never really comes to life at all, and even Kit seems a least partially constructed of cardboard. A number of the minor characters seem interesting but far from fully realized. Nonetheless, I appreciate Glass's exploration of a theme that recurs in all of her work--the ways in which we build families from people related by blood and those we collect throughout our lives and how feeling grounded in those families helps us become fully ourselves. As always, her writing is graceful and descriptive, carrying the reader over any gaps in characterization or plot.

Favorite passages:
His body has begun to look distinctly male in its dialogue with the ground.

The past is like the night: dark but 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. We feel the same way about the present. We say, let bygones be bygones . . . But there is no day without night, no wakefulness without sleep, no present without past. They are constantly somersaulting over each other.

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