cover image A Sudden Light

A Sudden Light

Garth Stein. Simon & Schuster, $26.95 (416p) ISBN 978-1-4391-8703-6

In a complete change of pace from his dog-centric The Art of Racing in the Rain, Stein transports the reader to Riddell House, a 100-year-old mansion made entirely of wood overlooking Puget Sound. Jones Riddell and his 14-year-old son, Trevor, move there following the failure of Jones’s business and his ensuing separation from Trevor’s mother. Jones has come to Riddell House to help his younger sister, Serena, persuade their Alzheimer’s-afflicted father to sell the family land, which is worth a fortune, to housing developers. But supernatural forces stand in the way of the deal. Clever Trevor, as he is called, begins to see ghosts and have visions. Researching the history of the Riddell clan—rapacious timber barons—he finds that it is rife with sexual secrets, incest, illness, and even madness, which forces him to realize that his dream of seeing his family whole again might come at too great a cost. With its single setting and small cast of characters (ghosts not included), the story’s feeling of claustrophobia adds to the tension. Stein dramatizes the various tensions between his characters well, although narrator Trevor comes off as a tad precocious for 14. The history of the Riddell family fails to shock after a while, even as events in the present lead to the tragic denouement. (Sept.)