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Before We Sleep by Jeffrey Lent

Before We Sleep (edition 2017)

by Jeffrey Lent (Author)

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322518,266 (4)2
Title:Before We Sleep
Authors:Jeffrey Lent (Author)
Info:Bloomsbury USA (2017), Edition: 1st, 400 pages
Collections:Your library

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Before We Sleep by Jeffrey Lent



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At the end of Jeffrey Lent’s Before We Sleep, Katey Snow must call her mother. She’s spent an eventful week on the road, having taken her father’s truck on an extended sojourn from Vermont to Virginia, but her imperative is to speak to her mother, from whom she had a fraught departure. The two characters, Katey and her mother Ruth, carry this graceful novel, and have alternating chapters named for each in turn. In Mr. Lent’s usual style, their stories unfold at an even pace, their revelations laid out in a magisterial and majestic tone. Another beautiful and gratifying book from Mr. Lent.

Salient events begin with yet another verbal set-to between Katey and her mother. This story, set in the mid-1960s, captures the era’s terrible tension between parents and teen-age children; Katey sees things simply and in straightforward terms, as 17 year-olds do, but her mother sees the same things in terms of threat to be avoided, and stridently challenges her daughter at every turn. One tense evening holds more of the same as mother and daughter go at it hammer and tong yet again.

Oliver, the father and husband, sits by as usual, but then, perhaps fed up by the constant bickering, lets fall a bombshell. It is a revelation that sends Katey off on a journey, one in which she discovers certain things about herself and her mother, which lend a new perspective to her life.

Mr. Lent deals with the heart’s agendas in unique ways. He makes his characters’ thoughts and feelings so abundantly clear, and in such plain language, that we find our journey with his characters rewarding and believable. This is a sympathetic group - Mr. Lent has a way of making you love his novels’ populace.

This novel follows Katey’s journey from indignant youth to sadder-but-wiser young adult in a matter of days. This speeded-up time frame allows for Katey’s progress - it is an eventful trip, as I say - and enough happens that she graduates into a much more nuanced and understanding view of Ruth. Ruth’s own narrative includes the horrifying truth about Oliver’s wartime experience in Germany, and how he and her life are altered as a result of it. Katey’s trip involves meetings with a gallery of strangers, each described in chiaroscuro-type clarity in which Mr. Lent specializes, and which I find kind of a drug.

In temporal setting and theme, this piece allies itself more to A Peculiar Grace than to the epics Mr. Lent has set in days of yore: Sleep and Grace portray young people coming of age through their own particular trials on the way to reflective and wise adulthood.

The speed with which Katey’s point of view shifts reflects the shock of her experience with true independence. Ruth’s position as a teacher gives her a close-up view of the novel vagrancies of 1960s high-schoolers; in her mind this warrants her carping over her daughter’s direction in life, although frankly there’s nothing much alarming there. As always, Mr. Lent achieves a deft touch with the simplest language. Conversations are real-life oblique and laconic in New England style. Real human growth through everyday striving and stumbling - these are Mr. Lent’s stock in trade and they are fully on display here. Take this one up by all means! ( )
  LukeS | Jul 29, 2018 |
Some books are sleepers. This one was going so well with an Odessy feel building up. Wonderful characters barely lighted upon until time to move on to the next.
The Katey character was interesting and complex. Only 17 in January and a high school graduate. And a 1967 at that and accepted a full ride to become a member of the class of 1970
Small thing like that drive me crazy.
The mother character I could not stand and the last 30 pages were wasted on her redemption or whatever. My hubs says I can be hard on people but for the life of me I struggled to find any redeeming qualities.
The grandmother, Jo, I adored. ( )
  Alphawoman | Jun 26, 2017 |
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The sweeping, intergenerational story of a Vermont family, from WWII to the dawning of the '60s--the most magisterial and moving novel of acclaimed author Jeffrey Lent's career. Katey Snow, seventeen, slips the pickup into neutral and rolls silently out of the driveway of her Vermont home, her parents, Oliver and Ruth, still asleep. She isn't so much running away as on a journey of discovery. She carries with her a packet of letters addressed to her mother from an old army buddy of her father's. She has only recently been told that Oliver, who she adores more than anyone, isn't her biological father. She hopes the letter's sender will have answers to her many questions. Before We Sleep moves gracefully between Katey's perspective on the road and her mother, Ruth's. Through Ruth's recollections, we learn of her courtship with Oliver, their marriage on the eve of war, and his return as a changed man. Oliver had always been a bit dreamy, but became more remote, finding solace most of all in repairing fiddles. There were adjustments, accommodations, sacrifices--but the family went on to find its own rhythms, satisfactions, and happiness. Now Katey's journey may rearrange the Snows' story. Set in a lovingly realized Vermont setting, tracking the changes that come with the turning of the seasons--and decades--and signaling the dawning of a new freedom as Katey moves out into a world in flux, Before We Sleep is a novel about family, about family secrets, and about the love that holds families together. It is also about the Greatest Generation as it moves into the very different era of the 1960s, and about the trauma of war that so profoundly weighed on both generations.… (more)

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