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A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

A Sudden Light

by Garth Stein

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A story told in retrospect by Trevor, who was 14 when he visited Riddell House with his dad. He becomes a conduit for the story of the house. ( )
  rmarcin | Jan 22, 2019 |
This was our choice for our book club. I actually bought the book based on the cover. It was interesting but took me forever to read. I'll give the cliff notes version of the synopsis. This story is told by a 14 year old boy whose father takes him to his old home to convince his grandfather to sell the house. The boy sees ghosts, deals with a crazy aunt, bewildered grandfather and a confused father. While the premise sounds interesting, it was definitely wordy and seemed to drag on and on. However, I enjoyed reading it and loved it at the end when we saw Serena's true colors. ( )
  booklover3258 | Dec 12, 2017 |
After loving The Art of Racing in the Rain and seeing Garth Stein at a book signing, I was impatient for his next book, A Sudden Light, which was recently released. As it turned out, it is a family saga, which I happen to like (End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver and The Big House by Henry Howe Colt, as examples.) Unfortunately, A Sudden Light didn’t live up to my expectations nor the two other family sagas mentioned.

Elijah Riddell made his fortune clear-cutting forests in the U.S. Northwest in the late 1800s and early 1900s. His wealth was shown by the enormous estate (200+ acres) near Seattle called North Estate. In Elijah’s time, first sons inherited the family business, however Elijah’s first son, Ben, turned out to be a conservationist. His beliefs were like those of John Muir and Henry David Thoreau, where we (people, nature, all things) are connected and he somehow convinced his father that to make amends for his devastation of the beautiful forests, he should let North Estate return to its natural form at some point.

It is now 1990 and there is nothing left of Riddell’s fortune except the house. His progeny have squandered whatever was left to them. Elijah’s grandson, Samuel who appears to be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, inhabits the house. His children, Jones and Serena, want him to sign a Power of Attorney so that they can sell the house and land, refinance their lives and be rich again. Samuel, however, wants to follow Elijah’s wishes.

Jones, who as a young adult moved to Connecticut, married and had a son, Trevor, has come back to Seattle, ostensibly to help his younger sister accomplish this task. He has brought fourteen year old Trevor with him. Trevor is soon caught up in the Riddell history, the house and his gorgeous Aunt Serena and initially is in favor of selling the land, hoping new found riches will help his estranged parents reunite.

Trevor’s only problem is that Ben comes to him in nightly dreams, revealing deep secrets, explaining why Elijah’s wishes should be adhered to and more. As a fourteen year old, Trevor is confused about so many things in life, including, in this case, what is right and what is wrong.

I will readily admit that I do believe all things are connected. We read today of the continued clear-cutting of the Amazon and who knows what climatic and environmental devastation that will cause. We see the impact of global warming. And who is to say that our spirits don’t reside somewhere that can be reached. I won’t dismiss that idea. However in A Sudden Light it is way to blatant. There’s no mystery, no shroud or fogginess and it takes away from the story.

Additionally, while the story is supposedly being told by a mature Trevor in a fourteen year old voice, the voice isn’t believable. Sometimes it seems too old, sometimes too young.

Finally, A Sudden Light is the story of a dysfunctional family. But much of that dysfunction is lost in the spirit world of the story.

After bagging the two previous books I started, I felt committed to this book, so I finished it. However, I’m not sure I would have if I hadn’t put down two previous books. ( )
  EdGoldberg | Nov 28, 2017 |
A Sudden Light: A Novel, Garth Stein, author; Seth Numrich, narrator
Jones Riddell and his wife Rachel had recently experienced financial difficulties. They were forced to declare bankruptcy, and consequently lost their Connecticut home. Their marriage became strained and they decided to temporarily separate. Rachel traveled to her parent’s home in England, and Jones took his 14-year-old son Trevor to his ancestral home in Seattle, Washington. It was there that his father’s family had once operated a successful forestry enterprise.
Once at Riddell House, Trevor met his grandfather Samuel, a confused elderly man, and his beautiful Aunt Serena, a woman who made his hormones spring to life. Serena, younger than his father, was the caregiver for his grandfather. As children, her “Brother Jones” had exerted a great influence on her, but after the untimely death of their mother, Isobel, Jones was banished by his father, and more than two decades had passed since he had returned. His sister Serena wanted him to help her get their father, Samuel, to give them Power of Attorney so they could sell the house. The problem was that Elijah, Trevor’s great grandfather, who created the Riddell fortunes, became remorseful after his son Ben died; he changed from being a timber baron to kind of a conservationist. He decided to repent for abusing the forest in order to satisfy his own greed. He had written that the land should return to its former state after the last Riddell passed on.
As Trevor became more comfortable in his father’s former home, he began to explore. There were mysteries developing. Objects were disappearing without explanation, like his watch and his father’s ring. Even his Aunt Serena’s cake server went missing. Then, on occasion he heard strange sounds, voices, and he even thought he saw apparitions. He discovered secret passageways and hidey holes where he found some of the missing objects. When he tried to tell his mom and his dad about what he had discovered, they didn’t believe him. He wanted to know if the house was haunted. His mom thought his imagination was at work. His aunt laughed at him. Trevor realized that his dad was hiding something, but he wouldn’t reveal it to Trevor even when he pleaded.
As Trevor learned more and more secrets, he discovered that Elijah’s son Ben had died very young, under odd circumstances, right after the death of his lover, Harry. Both men had loved the trees and hated that Elijah’s business was deforesting the land. Elijah had disapproved of Ben’s homosexual relationship; Ben had disapproved of the family’s logging business which he believed was raping the land. This was more than a century ago and two things were true: Alternate lifestyles were not accepted and abusing the environment was not a parlor conversation.
After awhile, against reality, it seems that Trevor actually engaged with a ghost, the ghost of Ben. He learned that Ben’s brother Abraham was Grandfather Samuel’s father. He learned that Ben was a gentle, thoughtful man. He learned about the “not quite secret” great love he and Harry had shared. He learned about the history of the estate and he discovered that Ben thought that he, Trevor, might be the one who could save it so that Elijah’s wish to honor Ben’s memory, by returning the land to its former state of beauty, would be fulfilled. This was in contrast to his aunt and father’s wish to sell it and have the land developed. Both Serena and Jones were truly cash strapped. What should Trevor do? Should he help Ben or should he help his father and his aunt? What about his grandfather? Did he want his grandfather sent to a home? Did he need that kind of environment? Was he really that sick? These were all questions that would be difficult for an adult to handle. Trevor had only just turned 14 a few days before!
As Trevor continued to consider what to do, he explored further and learned more and more. He began to suspect that Serena had ulterior motives. He began to wonder about why his grandfather seemed so confused sometimes, believing he heard his dead wife dancing, and yet at other times, seemed a bit more coherent. As the story twists and turns, it is laced with revelations and tragedy. How will justice be served for Serena, Jones and Samuel in this life? How will justice be served for Ben who is from the past?
At the core of the story, there is also an interesting environmental question. Should the forest be restored to its original majesty or should human interaction with it be allowed to destroy it? Have humans interfered with nature? Should they? ( )
  thewanderingjew | Aug 27, 2016 |
From Amazon:

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.

My Thoughts:

I didn't really connect with Trevor. He seems far more adult than a 14 year old, perhaps because much of the time it is adult Trevor remembering what had happened. The finding of the clues felt a little contrived... diaries and letters laying hidden for many years, and Trevor happens to stumble on them just at the right time. But my biggest complaint is the pacing... it felt this story just dragged along, with not much happening until the last quarter or so. My overall feeling about A Sudden Light is that I’m unsure of just who the target audience is. The ending seemed to be really weak and several of the characters were majorly flimsy. I will say that I loved the grandfather. Despite these minor quibbles this is a story that has a little bit of everything, multi-generations, family secrets and dysfunction, ghostly elements, greed and even loyalty, forgiveness and redemption. It is a story that many readers will certainly enjoy. ( )
  Carol420 | May 31, 2016 |
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We do not see things the way they are, we see them as we are.
For my dead father
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Growing up in rural Connecticut, I had been told the name Riddell meant something to people in the Northwest.
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"In the summer of 1990, 14-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 Puget Sound. Trevor's bankrupt parents have begun a trial separation, and his father, Jones Riddell, has brought Trevor to Riddell House for the summer with a goal: he will join forces with his sister, Serena, to dispatch Grandpa Samuel-- who is flickering in and out of dementia-- to a graduated living facility, sell off the house and property for development into 'tract housing for millionaires,' divide up the profits, and live happily ever after. But Trevor soon discovers there's someone else living in Riddell House: a ghost with an agenda of his own. For while the land holds tremendous value, it is also burdened by the final wishes of the family patriarch, Elijah, that it be allowed to return to untamed forestland as a penance for the millions of trees harvested over the decades by Riddell Timber. As he uncovers secrets of his family's past that are hidden deep within the house, guided by the whisperings of the ghost, Trevor discovers a legacy of family trauma and terrible guilt. The ghost will not rest until Elijah's wish is fulfilled, and Trevor's willingness to face the past holds the key to his family's future"--… (more)

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