There’s a U2 song titled “Stuck in a Moment,” and those four words perfectly describe Kit Noonan, the forty-something protagonist in Julia Glass’ heartfelt family novel “And the Dark Sacred Night.”
An unemployed academic, Kit’s entire life is mired in his frustration over the never-disclosed identity of his father. He was born to the teenage Daphne back in the 1960s, and, despite his pleas, she’s never revealed his father’s name. Now the father of school-aged twins, Kit can’t find a job, can’t even rake the leaves in the back yard or do the laundry because of his frozen emotional state. His wife, Sandra, has pointed out that without knowledge of his father he’s “missing something crucial, like a limb or one of his senses.” So he hits the road determined to, at last, find his dad.
Kit’s journey takes him from Vermont to Cape Cod, and along the way readers can delight in meeting old friends. Two characters we encountered in Glass’ 2002 National Book Award-winning “Three Junes” are important to the plot of “And the Dark Sacred Night.” They are music critic Malachy Burns, who died of AIDS in that debut novel, and Fenno McCloud, owner of a Manhattan bookstore.
Although Jasper Noonan and Kit’s mom were married when Kit was a child and divorced years ago, Kit hopes his stepdad can help him in his search. Jasper gives Kit the name of a woman who knows the identity of his father, and the search picks up speed. What makes this novel so fresh is its notion that the need to know where we come from isn’t limited to our formative years. And that all buried secrets are bittersweet when revealed.
In this novel, Glass embraces the messiness of life — from Daphne’s resentment of Kit’s search to Kit’s grandmother Lucinda’s sorrow that 40 years ago her grandson Kit was lost to her. And like the people who make up our own extended families, the relatives and friends Kit meets on his journey are sometimes dismissive and sometimes generous and kind.
It’s too breathtaking of a revelation to share here why Daphne kept Kit’s father a secret, but when his identity is disclosed, readers may or may not sympathize with her choices. Some might forgive her and understand her motivations; others will not.
“And the Dark Sacred Night” takes its title from a song much older than “Stuck in a Moment.” It comes from Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” in which he reminds us to appreciate the beauty around us, including “the bright blessed day, the dark sacred night.” All of Glass’ novels share this wisdom.
Carol Memmott’s reviews have appeared in USA Today and the Washington Post.