REVIEW: ‘The Sunlit Night’ by Rebecca Dinerstein

Frances, just graduating college, loses her boyfriend and then her family, as her parents split up and nearly disown Frances’s sister over her choice of fiance.

Yasha, just graduating high school, loses his single father when he dies of heart trouble while the two are traveling overseas.

Frances and Yasha are unknown to each other, but both wind up on an island in Lofoten, a small string of islands off the coast of Norway, nearly a hundred miles north of the arctic circle. Frances travels there for a summer artists colony opportunity she resurrects from her email trash folder. Yasha arrives to bury his father “at the top of the world,” away from civilization, following his last wishes.

The Sunlit Night is a novel that beautifully weaves together these two characters’ stories as they are stripped of the circumstances and context that define them and then as they feel their way forward toward reestablishing their sense of identity and direction. This self-discovery takes place among strangers, in a lonely land where the sun never sets.

Lofoten, Davide Gorla

Frances tells her own story, while Yasha’s is told through narration. Their stories come through in lyrical yet matter-of-fact language. We watch them act without grand gestures. We hear them think their confused, unstructured, difficult thoughts. The effect is that we come to know Frances and Yasha clearly while they still feel hesitant and dispersed.

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TRIBUTE: John Updike and America

John Updike died today at the age of 75.* That’s a good statistical age. It sounds like an average lifespan; like a neat round American age. He was in many ways a penultimate American, a writer in love with the American idea.

*-OK, news reports are now correcting themselves; his age was 76. An even more American number. (P.S., Years ago I adopted the use of “OK” rather than “okay” from Updike’s novels.)

John Updike. Photo by Martha Updike.

The New York Times has an old page (from 1997) that includes links to two NPR Fresh Air interviews with John Updike, as well as articles including reviews of his books.

Updike was an incredibly prolific writer. In his later years he focused on serving as an art critic and essayist. He wrote poetry, too. His most famous poem is “Player Piano,” which the New Yorker published in 1954. It was in 2000, upon reading “Rainbow” in The Atlantic, that I first observed, however, that it seemed like he was writing poetry to stay in shape for writing novels.

Taken together, his Rabbit series may well be considered an epic prose poem on the later half of the twentieth century in America. That is the place to begin if you’ve never read much (or any) Updike. Grab Rabbit, Run and go.

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