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'A Sudden Light' Explores Fathers and Sons Across Five Generations

Susan Doupé Photography

Every family has a history – but few have a history as tangled as the one in Garth Stein’s new novel, “A Sudden Light.”

The Riddell family is driven by regret and bitterness – even a hint of madness. One 14 year-old boy finds himself thrust into the middle of it all, on a summer trip to the family homestead.

Stein speaks with Texas Standard’s Emily Donahue about his newest novel, the controversy surrounding his previous novel, “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” and what it was like to write a book spanning five generations of the same family.

Although the book is not religious, it is spiritual. One of the characters is a ghost, but Stein is quick to point out that the book is not a “scary ghost story – it’s a very spiritual story that involves a ghost.”

"If you look at the themes of all of my four books, they’re all very similar," Stein says, "this idea that we’re all connected, as well as the idea that we must come to terms with our past if we’re going to move forward to the future – and that we are accountable for who we are and what we do."

Stein includes a gay relationship in “A Sudden Light.”  Previous novel "Racing" was temporarily banned in a North Texas school district because of its' depiction of a gay couple.

"The relationship in [the book] came about in the course of writing," Stein says. "And I realized it created a tension, that in that time around the turn of the 20th century, was very loaded, and that I could use to show this relationship between a father and a son, and the tension that it causes."

Protagonist Trevor Riddell is 14 when his father brings him to Riddell House. His family is in the throes of bankruptcy and divorce. There, he meets, for the first time, his grandfather and his aunt, each carrying secrets of their own.

“In this world Trevor has no one he can trust … so he starts exploring the house and he finds hidden rooms, old journals and diaries from his great-great-uncle and his great-great-grandfather. He starts to put together the history of this family, and he understands then that there is someone in the house who he can trust and who will help him. But that person isn’t actually of physical body –  that person is the spirit of one of his ancestors who will guide him through the mysteries of Riddell House,” Stein says.

Stein will be speaking at BookPeople in Austin on November 12 at 7 p.m.

This post was compiled by Texas Standard intern Sarah Talaat

Emily Donahue is a former grants writer for KUT. She previously served as news director and helped launch KUT’s news department in 2001.
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