Confession, I can be swayed to read a book based on a good jacket quote from an author that I admire. I pick books by their covers. Rebecca Dinerstein's debut novel, The Sunlit Night scored an intriguing quote from Jonathan Safran Foer and it caught my attention. Thank you to Bloomsbury USA for an advanced copy of Dinerstein's novel in exchange for an honest review.
PLOT- Frances has just been dumped by her boyfriend and she learns that her parents are getting a divorce. In her early twenties, she has not yet begun to live life on her own and she finds herself rootless. She accepts an art internship on a small island in Norway, as a short term solution to her living situation.
Yasha immigrated from Russia to America with his father as a small child. He has not heard from his mother in years, but she shows up in the weeks prior to his high school graduation. She wants a formal divorce from her husband and to reconnect with her son. Yasha's father plans a trip to Russia as a surprise for his son's graduation. On the trip, his father dies of a heart attack. Feeling alone, Yasha contacts his mother and they travel with the body to Norway, to where his father had wanted to be buried.
The art institute where Frances is working, handles the details of the burial. Yasha and Frances meet and realize that they are two kindred souls, two kids adrift and struggling to transition into adulthood.
LIKE- The Sunlit Night starts off very strong, with chapters alternatively showing Frances and Yasha's lives in New York City. Dinerstein has created compelling and well rounded characters, especially both sets of parents of the main characters. Both Frances and Yasha are loved by their parents, but their parents also hand them a heavy load of baggage with regard to their own dysfunction. Frances and Yasha carry their parent's dysfunction as they struggle to make their own way in the world and develop their own relationships. Dinerstein is a talented writer with a keen sensibility for understanding and writing family dynamics.
I like how the setting shifts from busy New York City to the quiet of an archipelago in the North Sea. If I had not read about the setting in the blurb, I would have never expected to encounter such disparate locals in the same story. I like how it took the characters out of their element and shook them up.
DISLIKE - The story crumbled for me in the last third. The pacing slowed and I'm not sure that I believed the chemistry between Frances and Yasha. I believed that they could connect with their situations and similarities, but I did not believe a romantic connection between them. I raced through the first two-thirds of the novel, reading it in less than a day, but the last third took me over a week to finish and it was a chore.
RECOMMEND- Maybe. I'm curious to see what other readers think of the last part of the book. The first part was so strong, that I will seek out future stories by Dinerstein. She writes beautiful phrases and creates intriguing characters. I can see her becoming a favorite author of mine, despite my disappointment with the ending of The Sunlit Night.