Friday, August 9, 2013

Review: Morning Light by Holland Kane

Written by Holland Kane, Morning Light (Rumor House Books) is about Emily, a beautiful dancer, and her devout Christian husband Rick; their marriage is put in peril when he stops sleeping with her in order to obey the Church's teachings against birth control. In her confusion and grief, Emily turns to David, the precocious 17-year-old son of her best friend, and his comfort turns to passion. Though their affair is brief, it has a consequence: she becomes pregnant. Emily is torn between her husband and her young lover. 

★★★★★ (3 ½ out of 5)

MY REVIEW
This isn't the type of novel I would normally pick up on my own since I don't reach for family and religious drama, but this novel took me by surprise in many ways. While the theme of religion runs heavy throughout, the characters weren't the boring, religious fanatics I was expecting. The characters were real people with struggles and obvious flaws, they questioned Christianity and the idea of sin (especially Emily), and there were characters you rooted for and others you wanted to push in front of a bus (I'm looking at you, Dr. Wilson).

My favorite character is Emily, despite her clear lack of judgement in sleeping with an underage boy. It's clear that she did it because of her inner turmoil towards her husband's decision not to sleep with her anymore. Emily felt the most real to me; I understood her agitation towards her husband and the Church, and I felt that she was trying to escape her confusing predicament by working harder to be a better dancer. She's free thinking and open. I also loved the snippets of her journal entries because they're so emotional and raw, just like Emily herself.

One of my favorite things about this novel was the frame element. The story is being told twenty years after the affair by an adult David telling Emily's side of the story via her journal. Not only do we get adult David's thoughts, we know what he was thinking as a teenager, and we especially see what Emily was struggling with at the time of the affair. It made the story layered and very interesting. The frame aspect (and bits of the story) reminded me of The Great Gatsby but more twisted, and I mean that as a compliment. 

I have to compliment the writing of course. It's beautiful and vivid and David's narration is smoothly woven with Emily's point of view in the past. Also, the ending is shocking and strong. 

While there are many great things about the novel, some parts of it felt very drawn out and slow. And while I understand Emily's reason for turning to David to comfort her, I couldn't see why she felt so drawn to him in particular, both sexually and emotionally. I know that he's a teenager smart beyond his years and she cares for him partially because he is the son of her best friend Sarah, but other than that I didn't feel the connection. I wanted to feel as drawn to him as Emily does, and I just didn't. David is childish and selfish most of the time. I wanted to "get it," but couldn't. 

While I understand that religion obviously plays a very important part in this novel, at times sections about the Church's history felt like a lecture, and I found myself skimming those small sections to get to the actual story. 

Overall, I enjoyed reading this controversial novel, but couldn't get past the fact that I didn't understand Emily's attraction to David, which was pretty much the basis for the entire story. Still I would recommend it if you like reading beautifully-written family drama. 

Q&A WITH HOLLAND KANE*

Q 1.  Where did your passion for this story come from?

A: I wanted to explore obsession, where do fixations come from, why do we suffer or enjoy them? People have many obsessions, dull ones and exciting ones. Art can be an obsession, making it, collecting it. Reading, too. Some individuals are fixated on sports, or collecting ceramics, shoes. Romance is a mesmerizing obsession, love too. Somewhere in these regions lies desire, which can trip into sexual obsession, unrequited passion, into stalking, even murder. If we are fortunate, these primal energies can be mediated by thought, by duty, and helped by love.

Before writing Morning Light I was taken by local news stories about an attractive Seattle teacher, Mary Kay Letourneau, a woman who went to a Catholic grade school, Catholic High school, Catholic college (Seattle University.) Mary Kay was the married mother to four children when she had sex with a thirteen-year-old student. She went to prison. After the boy reached eighteen they petitioned the prison board to allow them to marry. As far as I know they are still married. (You can check out Mary Kay Letourneau on her Wikipedia page here.)

Click for more!

Q 2.  Morning Light takes a harsh look at the Catholic Church and its stance on birth control, especially within marriage. Why do you think that this is still such a controversial issue for the Church, when according to a 2012 Gallup poll 82% of American Catholics see birth control as morally acceptable?

A. The gender determinism pushed by male Church leaders is part of the Catholic tradition, and the source of much anguish among believers. The attempt to define contemporary moral issues by clinging to the obscure historical past, and constructing a present-day faith-based narrative pinned on a discredited premise that women must spend their time on earth as inherently inferior male-dominated creatures, will continue to damage the Church.

Q 3. The central character in your novel, a twenty-four-year-old woman, sleeps with a boy who is not only a minor, but also the son of her best friend. Yet the book jacket calls Morning Light a love story. Can you call this love?

A: Love is perhaps the most glue-like and also the most plastic and disruptive emotional quality we face in our lives. Emily married for practical reasons without fully understanding love or even herself – her husband is handsome, dutiful, hard working, competent, and a good provider. She’s a person who had not experienced desire as passion before. She’s attracted to a youth, but the attraction goes awry. We follow her as she journeys toward partial understanding of herself, and the devotional culture that had kept her from gaining this self-knowledge earlier in her life. Love is as promiscuously perverse as sexual desire and practice.

Q 4. Throughout the novel, your narrator, David, is preparing for the role of the Stage Manger in the Thornton Wilder play Our Town. Was the choice of this play intentional?

A: Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author (1922) inspired the form of Our Town, and the latter in turn inspired the form of Morning Light. The chief narrator, David, just like the Stage Manager, relates the central character’s, Emily’s, intimate thoughts by revealing her journal to us. The two confessional attitudes, his and hers, as in the plays mentioned, delivers a knowingness amid uncertainty, and contributes to the melancholy tension.

Q 5. You call this novel your “artists novel.” Why?

A: The two main characters in the novel are artists. I was drawn to the lives of those who live with uncertainty, doubt, and persevere. In a way this book was my belated education in modernist, and post-modernist attitudes—their explorations, challenges and risk-taking.

Even if we don’t know artists well, or intimately, they influence our culture, and our lives—the long list contains many contemporary writers, but I’ll stick to less contentious credits by citing well known figures, among them the late, Pina Bausch, Merce Cunnigham, born in Washington State, the incomparable Vaslav Nijinsky and Igor Stravinsky, John Cage, Andy Warhol, Balthus, de Chirico, Caravaggio, Francis Bacon, Thornton Wilder, Arthur Miller, David Mamet, Sam Shepard, Edward Albee, Harold Pinter, Bob Dylan, my friend the musician Billy Squier, and others—Lawrence Durrell, Graham Greene, Malcolm Lowry, William Golding, George Orwell, and who can forget Mark Twain, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Earnest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, or the Bronte sisters—Emily and Charlotte, a list that contains Katherine Anne Porter, Jean Rhys, Marguerite Duras, the luminous Virginia Woolf, and dozens of others that I’ve missed listing here.  

*The questions were not ones that I came up with myself.

FAVORITE QUOTES

"As I looked over her journals, i understood my job was that of a librarian and curator. I had to select, rearrange and organize as if was handling an artist's midlife career retrospective."

"He cracked his knuckles and she felt shadows enveloping them. Getting up, he hugged her carefully, as if hugging someone in danger of falling apart."

"I tell him I'm dreamy, and dreams can confuse, and yeah, sometimes I stumble, but my pratfalls are part of life lived and i pick myself up, change my ways. I'm tribal, my baby stays with me. I'm nature, but not all nature is good."

"It struck me on my journey through Emily's journals that the unexpected events in her life, in my life, in Rick's life, and the actions we took to face them or avoid them, and the consequences we failed to consider, could be easily dismissed as ignorance. Someone could just as easily say we had lived twisted lives. Much of what we did was ill-informed and badly chosen, but all of it was earnest and authentic."

What do you think of my review?
Will you be picking up Morning Light?

**I was given this book to review, but all opinions are my own.**
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13 comments:

  1. Hmm, seems like an interesting idea and execution, even though this kind of story isn't my cup of tea. It's been a while since I've read a good "push in front of a bus" character, though :)

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  2. great review, I don't know if i would pick it up, but it still sounds pretty good.

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  3. Dearest Sara, although I wouldn´t read normally such a novel, too, your review sounds interesting. Especially Emily seems to be a really interesting character!

    Thank you :)

    xx from Bavaria/Germany, Rena

    www.dressedwithsoul.blogspot.de

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  4. I would not normally let this be my first pick either, but it sounds so enticing!!! :) I am currently reading "Then Came You" by Jennifer Weiner...would highly recommend it :)

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  5. It sounds like a great read! Honestly, right now I am up for anything to read because there are almost no good books selling these days at the store. I will add this to my list! :)

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  6. Wow!Your review was very professional, editors are missing a great writer here. You should work in this field.

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Hello, beautiful! Thanks for leaving a comment!
Have a lovely day!
~Sara ♥

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