Review: October Light

Robert Gardner (1976)

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that I was so happy to finish because NOW I DON’T HAVE TO READ IT ANYMORE! Let me count the ways I disliked this book. Oh, wait, we don’t have enough time.

Set in rural Vermont, the story centers on an elderly brother and sister who live in the same house. To be precise, it’s James house and he’s none-too-happy to have his opinionated, liberal sister living under his roof. Sally, the widow of a successful dentist, is now financially strapped, forced to live with her stubborn, conservative brother, a man whose dislike of television leads him to take his shotgun to her TV set.

Sibling tensions reach a crisis point when James chases Sally upstairs, brandishing a piece of firewood and threatening to kill her. She locks herself in her bedroom and refuses to come out, living off of apples stored in the attic while passing the time reading a trashy paperback novel. Unfortunately, their battle of wills lasts for over 400 pages.

October Light won the National Book Critics Circle Award and I gather it’s a well-regarded piece of American literature but its brilliance was completely lost on me. I disliked just about everything in this book. The characters were either annoying or uninteresting, the story didn’t pique my interest in the least, and the writing was nothing special. Worst of all, I detested the story-within-a-story device that only served to interrupt and draw-out the torture of reading this book. Obviously, it was supposed to have some relevance to the characters and their relationships in the main story, but I didn’t see it. What’s more, I didn’t care and ended up skimming large sections.

By the time I finished October Light, I felt as if I’d spent a week cooped up with horrible relations whom I couldn’t wait to flee.

3 thoughts on “Review: October Light

  1. Sigh. I’d never heard of this book before this week, but it was mentioned in Thomas Foster’s How to Read Novels Like a Professor and I added it to my wish list. I’ve enjoyed Gardner’s writing books, but have never read any of his fiction. Maybe I ought not to start.

  2. Perhaps the Foster piece will give you a better appreciation for Oct Light than I had. I’d say if you’ve enjoyed Gardner’s writing in the past (this was my first), it’s probably worth a try. You can always put it down if it frustrates you as much as it did me. I “had” to read it for my book club; it should make for a great discussion.

  3. He kind of just threw the mention out in passing. He talked much more about Grendel, which I own but find I cannot read. I’ve never been a Beowulf fan. . .

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