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October Light (1976)

by John Gardner

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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5851029,113 (3.88)18
New York Times Bestseller and National Book Critics Circle Award Winner: A "dazzling" novel about the tumultuous relationship of two elderly siblings (Los Angeles Times). James is a cantankerous and conservative seventy-two-year-old who has spent his life caring for the animals on his farm. His widowed older sister, Sally, has strong liberal ideals and a propensity for debate. When Sally's bankruptcy forces her to move in with her brother, their lifelong feud quickly escalates--and Sally becomes a prisoner in her own room with nothing to survive on but apples and a trashy novel about marijuana smugglers.     As Sally becomes immersed in the book, the story envelops the narrative of the siblings' dysfunctional relationship, and Gardner explores a wide array of themes from human autonomy to self-definition to political extremism. The result is a tour de force of Gardner's unique literary style at the height of his protean creative powers.   This ebook features a new illustrated biography of John Gardner, including original letters, rare photos, and never-before-seen documents from the Gardner family and the University of Rochester Archives.… (more)

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» See also 18 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
When I first picked up October Light I thought it was going to be this old-timey story about two elderly siblings, living in seething resentment of one another in a farmhouse somewhere in Vermont. Admittedly, the book jacket didn't give me much to go on.
So, the plot: James Page is angry at the world. So angry he can't stand his sister Sally's droning television and ends up silencing it with a shotgun blast. The shooting of the television sets in motion a series of events - James locks Sally in a room (but seemingly not her own room because she finds a trashy novel which doesn't belong to her). She becomes absorbed in said trashy novel; literally can't put it down and refuses to come out of the bedroom, even when her niece convinces James to free her. James doesn't care either way. In truth, he is not without deep rooted grief, a grief that has hardened to him. One son committed suicide and another died in an accident. James's sister, widowed and a polar opposite, does nothing to comfort him. The epic sibling battle lasts for the entire book and escalates to a catastrophic ending.
I have to admit, I didn't enjoy the frame novel technique. Sally's trashy novel seemed to be the story Gardner really wanted to write. There is no explanation of how this trashy novel came to be in her room until the end. In truth, the story came alive for me in the last fifty pages. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Oct 27, 2019 |
3.5 stars ( )
  AaronJacobs | Oct 23, 2018 |
full of fine writing, exuberant writing, mock fiction, deep fiction, and wonderful characters.

The siblings James and Sally are sharing the Bennington, Vermont family house in their old age. James inherited the farm, and Sally came to live with him when her money ran out after being widowed. It hasn't gone especially well. James is hard, determined to reject all modernity, and Sally is equally stubborn. When James turns his shotgun on her television, the war is on.

Locked (and self-locked) in her upstairs bedroom, Sally spends her defiant isolation reading a tattered pulp fiction novel that she would never have touched in other circumstances. We read along with her, as she escapes from the domestic war into San Francisco drug running, sexual license and derring-do, constantly interrupted by missing pages. It is true escapist reading, but it's not only the room she is escaping from.

The Vermont story expands to include James's daughter's family, his friends at the local bar, the local minister and guests, other people in the town, even some Bennington girls. And it expands into memories of childhood, courtship, married life, relatives lost one way or another, and the work and beauty of the land. Ultimately, it is not only the bedroom door that is unlocked. ( )
  ffortsa | Mar 8, 2017 |
Here, in one of Garnder's first novels, domestic warfare between 2 spirited, overl opinionated senior citizens -- brother and sister -- brings chaos to their community of friends and family. Gardner's story says much about that vital tension at the heart of American line -- the conflict between tradition and progressivism -- and about the difficult business of pushing beyond this conflict to find a place where one cant stand, secure and untroubled beneath the haunted, holy light that comes with an autumn in the Land of the Free! - Adam
  stephencrowe | Nov 11, 2015 |
The book within a book didn't work for me. I really don't know what Gardner was trying to do here. It's supposed to be pulp fiction, but it wasn't a typical thriller in style. I like straight narratives, so I think his "jazzing around" was not my speed. The main novel is filled with long, long passages of inner thoughts, and not a lot of action. It comes close to being a parody of the literary novel, overloaded with past guilt and death. Nickel Mountain, by the same author, remains one of my favorites. ( )
  BobNolin | Aug 9, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John Gardnerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Penberthy, MarkCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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to my Father
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'Corruption? I'll tell you about corruption, sonny!'
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New York Times Bestseller and National Book Critics Circle Award Winner: A "dazzling" novel about the tumultuous relationship of two elderly siblings (Los Angeles Times). James is a cantankerous and conservative seventy-two-year-old who has spent his life caring for the animals on his farm. His widowed older sister, Sally, has strong liberal ideals and a propensity for debate. When Sally's bankruptcy forces her to move in with her brother, their lifelong feud quickly escalates--and Sally becomes a prisoner in her own room with nothing to survive on but apples and a trashy novel about marijuana smugglers.     As Sally becomes immersed in the book, the story envelops the narrative of the siblings' dysfunctional relationship, and Gardner explores a wide array of themes from human autonomy to self-definition to political extremism. The result is a tour de force of Gardner's unique literary style at the height of his protean creative powers.   This ebook features a new illustrated biography of John Gardner, including original letters, rare photos, and never-before-seen documents from the Gardner family and the University of Rochester Archives.

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James Page has blown his sisters TV to hell with a shotgun, and chased her into her room with a firewood club.
There she will live or die on a diet of apples, and a lurid fantasy of illicit drugs, kinky violence, and casual sex.
But fantasies end, and reality is right outside the door.
The big brother-and-sister war is on.
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