Review: A Sudden Light

A Sudden Light
A Sudden Light by Garth Stein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

a sudden light
By Garth Stein

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

Set west of Puget Sound in Seattle, outside a small town and among towering Madrone, Red Cedar and Spruce trees hundreds of years old, loomed Riddell House. In dark and dilapidated rooms filled with lumber baron history and secrets and ghosts and lies—it waited.

“…a massive structure made of logs and bricks and stones, crowned with a roof of heavy cedar shakes accented by green copper downspouts and flashing. The house was circumscribed by a veranda on both the first and the second of the three floors…I quickly counted a dozen chimneys…I estimated at least a hundred windows.”

There, within the rambling old mansion, Trevor Riddell’s story unfolds. Told from the perspective of 14 year old Trevor, albeit a rather mature and unusually confident young man, you are drawn into the drama of his summertime adventure. Basically, Trevor’s dad, Jones, drags his son to Riddell House in order to face his father and a dark past that won’t let him go.

Caring for his ailing old dad, Grandpa Samuel, on his slow journey to dementia, is younger sister Serena. A shockingly beautiful woman (to hormonally challenged Trevor) full of her own mysteries and a complicated pile of guilt she wields like a weapon whenever it strikes her fancy. Together the three living characters are only the beginning to the intricate cast of characters brought into this who-did-what-to-who ghost story historical mystery.

Author Stein is no stranger to story-telling. A New York Times bestselling author, this is his fourth novel and it screams Hollywood. Not only does Trevor discover many secret rooms and passageways and even befriends a gay ghost, he also finds an old journal. It is through reading the history of Riddell House and how the original lumber tycoon Elijah Riddell’s many and interestingly varied offspring haunt the rooms and forge a curse that ultimately bring the story to a surprising end.

And a new beginning too.

This novel is nearly 400 pages long and yet I read it in just a few days. It has all the elements of a great coming-of-age-mystery with a few minor setbacks. My biggest beef with Stein is he packed so many characters into the middle of the story it got a little overwhelming. Yet in the end, things pretty much came together—and apart. Honestly, sometimes I really want to spill the proverbial beans and give the ending away.

My lips are sealed.

Along the way, through Trevor’s many discoveries, we are reminded of the huge scar that many of the original wealthy land owners left us with, and all that was taken away. In this case, trees, which Stein uses as the perfect metaphor. Riddell House sat on over 200 acres of wooded land once covered with tall and majestic and really sought after trees. Much like Wisconsin, they were all cleared away, sold into lumber and crafted into our history.

In the end, this is a love story.

View all my reviews

Speak Your Mind