‘And the Dark Sacred Night’: secrets in the family
“And the Dark Sacred Night,” a new novel by Julia Glass, brings back characters from her previous novels and adds new ones in a story of family ties, secrets and identity.
Special to The Seattle Times
The author of “And the Dark Sacred Night” will appear at 7 o.m. Monday May 12 at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Co. Free (206-624-6600; elliottbaybook.com ).
‘And the Dark Sacred Night’
by Julia Glass
Pantheon, 416 pp., $26.95
Winner of the National Book Award in 2002 for her first novel, “Three Junes,” Julia Glass is back in familiar territory — families and their secrets — in “And the Dark Sacred Night.”
Kit Noonan’s life is unmoored. He is middle-ageish, the father of twins, owner of a hefty mortgage with no job in sight. His wife, Sandra, is frustrated with his being stuck.
Sandra has decided that what Kit needs to come unstuck is to discover his father’s identity. Kit’s mother, Daphne, bore him at 18. Now in her 60s, she still refuses to divulge his father’s identity.
Why this idea takes household priority is as mysterious as the identity of Kit’s father — but the reader must suspend disbelief and soldier on. Sandra manages to convince the hapless Kit, who is a bit of a drip, that she’s right. These two characters are the least interesting in this story, but act as catalysts to move it along. The rest of the characters in this tale more than make up for Kit and Sandra.
Kit’s first stop is Jasper, the only “father” he has ever known. A Vermont outdoorsman with two sons of his own, Jasper was married to Daphne for several years. Kit belonged in Jasper’s life during what Jasper thinks of as “The Daphne Decade.” Glass writes: “Daphne was an older version of the girl you choose halfway through high school, the kind who doesn’t mind when you drive too fast late at night, aimed at no particular destination, whooping out the window at all the sedate housebound citizens who frown at your shenanigans while secretly wishing they had your crack-the-whip spontaneity.”
As a teenager, Daphne’s spontaneity led her to Malachy Burns, a fellow music-camp attendee in 1967. They both got more than they bargained for. Malachy will be remembered as the critic/reviewer who died of AIDS in “Three Junes.” In that book he was attended by Fenno McLeod, who makes another entirely sympathetic appearance in this story.
Malachy’s mother, Lucinda Burns, wife of a revered statesman, has also kept the secret of Kit, and has devoted her life to encouraging unwed mothers to keep their babies. There was never any question that Daphne would keep Kit, even though it tolled the end of her musical career as a cellist.
In due time, all family members are brought together for introductions, reunions, awkward moments, reminiscences — just like all families. The story ranges from Cape Cod to Vermont, eventually telling everyone’s personal story as well as how all these disparate lives intertwine.
Glass is very good at this, despite some strange authorial choices in this book. There is a singular event near the end that does nothing to move the narrative along, but there it sits, waiting to become somehow significant.
In case you’re wondering, “And the Dark Sacred Night” is a line from that wonderful Louis Armstrong song, “What a Wonderful World.”
Valerie Ryan owns a bookstore in Cannon Beach, Ore.