“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.
Spellbinding and atmospheric, A Sudden Light is rich with unconventional characters, scenes of transcendent natural beauty, and unforgettable moments of emotional truth that reflect Garth Stein’s outsized capacity for empathy and keen understanding of human motivation—a triumphant work of a master storyteller at the height of his power.”
Thoughts: There is so much to love in A Sudden Light that is becomes difficult to review the novel without unabashed gushing. It is one of those rare novels that has it all – a spooky house, ghostly presences, an amazing background, intriguing characters, a well-executed plot, and the emotional connections necessary for any story about family. The supernatural element is never a distraction but rather enhances the ties that bind Trevor to Riddell House and his grandfather. The whole novel makes for one of those unforgettable reading experiences filled with intensity and reflection, high emotion, and a general escape from reality.
Every family has its share of quirky characters and skeletons hiding in closets, and the Riddell family is no different. Grandpa Samuel may appear to be exhibiting signs of dementia, but there is something else bothering him. Aunt Serena is a bit too sultry to be an ordinary aunt. Serena and Jones are hiding something from both Trevor and Samuel. All of this while Trevor is experiencing visits from beyond the grave. To add to the cast of characters are the long-dead relatives – the lumber baron who built the family fortune, the lumber baron’s son who lost the family fortune, and the other son who died suddenly and young. Trevor soon discovers that no where is the idea that family is forever more apparent than at Riddell House.
The declining house and the looming forest add to the spooky atmosphere of the story and ultimately become characters in their own right. So much of the novel explores one’s responsibility to nature that the trees become personified during Trevor’s quest to decipher right from wrong. Similarly, as a silent witness to all of the family drama, Riddell House takes on a life of its own, protesting through creaks, groans, and other eccentricities of a house falling into ruins. Together, they enhance the ominous feel of everything occurring within Trevor’s life and capture a reader’s imagination.
In A Sudden Light, Garth Stein confirms his powers of observation and skill at capturing the human emotional experience. His descriptive scenes are exquisite and alive. His characters are complex and real. His story taps into the very heart of the intricacies of family bonds. It is a stunning story of love and forgiveness that one would be remiss to ignore.