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The Sunlight Dialogues

3.96  ·  Rating Details  ·  602 Ratings  ·  49 Reviews

John Gardner’s sweeping portrait of the collision of opposing philosophical perspectives in 1960s America, centering on the appearance of a mysterious stranger in a small upstate New York town

One summer day, a countercultural drifter known only as the Sunlight Man appears in Batavia, New York. Jailed for painting the word “LOVE” across two lanes of traffic, the Sunlight Ma
ebook, 711 pages
Published September 21st 2010 by Open Road Media (first published 1972)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,222)
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Jenny (Reading Envy)
It took me a long time to read this book and I'm still wrapping my head around it. More to come.

Perhaps you want to hear me discussed it on Episode 053 of the Reading Envy podcast.
According to the quotations on the back cover of the 1983 Ballantine paperback, The New York Times hailed John Gardner as "a major American writer whose promise...seems unlimited". The work itself, The Sunlight Dialogues has also been praised by Time as "A compassionate portrait of America in the uneasy 60's" and "A novel in the grand line of American fiction...a superb literary achievement" by The Boston Globe. Although it isone of his better known works, Gardner remains best known for Grendel, ...more
Jun 20, 2007 mark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book because I enjoyed the unique perspective and voice Gardner had found in "Grendel". I ended up being immersed in the small-town yet universal world that has created in this book for nearly a month. It is a long book and very dense. The cast of characters is large (I was happy to have the list of characters summarized at the beginning of the book for reference.) If you are looking for a page-turner, this is not the book. But if you are looking for fully developed characters t ...more
Aug 08, 2012 Dana rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Death has not been kind to John Gardner. My high-school English teacher assigned us this book, because I'm sure Gardner was seen at the time as an important American writer. But Gardner's motorcycle ran off the road, literally, and somehow his ascension to the American literary canon veered off track as well.

I loved this book as a high-school student. Here's what I wrote about it in my diary in 1975: "The Sunlight Dialogues is turning out to be a very good book. An extremely good book. To think
Nov 26, 2008 Jude rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The stars are from memory - it has been so long. Enough to say that from that moment on i bought everything of his in hardback til he died. His generosity, insight and brilliance were the counterpoint i was hungry for when my college teachers were drooling over Barthe. Not to put Barthe down, but I wanted confirmation that brilliance did not require disdain in order to shine.
Jun 30, 2012 Cheryl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
When a book starts with a family tree and several pages listing the various characters, you know it's not going to be an easy read and this book isn't. At almost 700 pages, it takes a while and you need those lists and that tree to keep people straight throughout the book.

I have mixed feelings about this book. It revolves around two main characters--Chief of Police Fred Clumly and The Sunlight Man, aka Taggert Hodge.

Fred Clumly has devoted his life to serving Law and Order in the small New Yor
Nov 29, 2007 Andy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the world at large
Shelves: favorites
I keep coming back to this book. It's a classic that is always worth reading again.
A strange visitor called The Sunlight Man with a mysterious past and some serious behavioral issues drops into a suburban community in upstate New York and begins to wreak havoc. His invasive and anarchic presence there comes to the attention of Clumly, the chief of police. Thus begins a series of confrontations between the two, which eventually evolve into clandestine meetings between them, and the "dialogues" (
Feb 19, 2008 Monica rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: special-books
The Sunlight Dialogues started my love affair with John Gardner's work followed by October Light which was not as incredible, but lead me to buy everything he wrote. Those who knew his work became saddened by his loss at such an early age. This is the original Ballentine edition for which Paul Bacon did the cover art. Jessica, it's for sale here for $1.10, plus shipping.
The SBN number was not on any of the listed editions, nor could I locate it on the net
Sep 09, 2007 Trilety rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the first book I read by Gardner - it was an old copy and smelled faintly of must - and has already been passed onto another. If you have time this is a must read. The book is heavy with characters - all well developed - and the full meaning of it doesn't really hit until a few days after finishing. Written in the 1970's it is most intriguing to see the way Gardner deals with issues of the time, ie Vietnam, racism, religion, etc and see how little times have changed. Oh, and the analogie ...more
Mar 18, 2011 Laura rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm a fan of John Gardner, but reading him does feel to me like listening to a manic depressive: sometimes he rises to heights of brilliance unimaginable, but he often hits lows, too, of boring passages, flat and irrelevant characters and plodding prose. In Grendel, those lows are forgivable as the novel hooks you with its premise and voice and doesn't let go. In Sunlight, however, I feel Gardner abused his audience. Too many characters and too many plots that start and come to no end. After fol ...more
Evan Kingston
Apr 05, 2011 Evan Kingston rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Awesome in every sense of the word; Gardner uses a diverse arsenal of writing styles to explore the lives of a sprawling cast, reveling in the minutia of American life in the 1960's to answer those big, timeless questions that literature was built to address. Full of a dozen conflicts that could each fuel their own novels, the police-mysteries, family-dramas, and philosophical battles that draw you from one chapter to the next don't end tidily with easy answers, but the sum of there conclusions ...more
DJ Dycus
Ugh! So glad to be through this. Finally. I've read several books by Gardner that I've really enjoyed, so I had pretty high expectations for this.

Reading this was like 700 pages of a William Faulkner whose passion is philosophy, but he's insecure so he's got to demonstrate his IQ throughout the novel. 700 pages of this tedious, dense, convoluted, multi-generational mess. Is Gardner brilliant? Yes. Does this novel demonstrate an ability to engage an audience? Definitely not. (You know, the first
Jun 04, 2015 Julie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pub-1960s-1970s
I agree with the New York Times Book Review (I usually do), this book is "large and beautifully written." It is those things in the extreme. I wish I could write like this: expansive in scope, deep in character. The craft! The skill! The architecture of the sentences and paragraphs! The 1960s!

Also, this book is about 750 pages. A long book. It took me longer than I'm used to to finish it. And I admit, there were passages I skimmed toward the end. That might have undermined the final impact of th
Apr 16, 2010 notgettingenough rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to notgettingenough by: completely insane person
Shelves: modern-lit
Maybe I'm not fair to this book or this author, if it comes to that. It was raved about to me by somebody who read books for a bit in their youth and never after. Like they have established their credentials and could rest on them.

I prefer my books to be recommended by people who READ. Is that unreasonable?

To me, a non-reader telling me this book is the best, is like one of those people who can't cook at all, but think they do a mean lasagne because lasagne is so easy. Sorry. IMPOSSIBLE. Avoid
Jan 28, 2009 Rachel rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I usually love John Gardner. Everything I've read of his up until now has ended up on my favorites list, but this book was nearly impossible for me to get through. There were so many characters and the narrator often referred to the characters by description rather than name, so it was confusing to figure out who was speaking or being described. It felt very long and contrived. The story idea is creative and Gardner often paints very vivid, quirky, and interesting characters, but I felt this tim ...more
Jul 08, 2014 Scott rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Why John Dufresne Matters More Than John Gardner
by Scott Archer Jones

Let us gather together and sit in judgement. You the reader demand the right to judge, to weigh up what fiction works and what fiction doesn't, and of course, all this opinionating piles up. The sum composite of all of our beliefs tallies the verdict of time. Take two cases, and pick a winner.

John Gardner, rascal, iconoclast, a popular and an experimental post-modern author strode the landscape like a god from his first book in
Oct 06, 2008 Norah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
this book is completely, completely amazing. it is very long, and at times goes slowly, but I was entirely engrossed in it - the writing is so beautiful and the world of the story so complex. I found it randomly on a shelf in the library and picked it up on a whim, and nobody I know has ever read it. I get the feeling that it might not be for everyone, but I highly recommend it.
Monty Merrick
Feb 23, 2010 Monty Merrick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book has lasting power. It got under my skin. I still remember the looks on character's faces, described in certain scenes, which I find so rare and magical for an author to pull off. John Gardner was an amazing storyteller.
Jun 20, 2012 Mark is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Paused about 10% of the way in on this book; will probably re-visit at some point if only to be a completest for my John Gardner luv. Unlike Grendel or Mickelsson's Ghost, however, it hasn't grabbed me in the first chapter.
Jacob Andra
I slogged about halfway through this one before giving up. Maybe another time. Gardner is a terrific writer, but he waxes so darn philosophical! It makes for slow going.
Jesse Brakefield
Feb 25, 2008 Jesse Brakefield rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
John Gardner is one of those authors who always makes you work for it...and it's always worth the work.
Pete Camp
May 21, 2016 Pete Camp rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
John Gardner was such a superb author. His prose is melodic at times. This novel is considered by many to be his masterpiece and I would have to agree. It's an expansive novel with a sprawling cast of characters. Set in small town Batavia New York, which I believe was the author's home town, it presents a microcosm of America in the 1960's. It's a shame John Gardner's life was cut short by a motorcycle accident because his writing is so engrossing.
"The Sunlight Man forced a smile. ' Another ill
Jan 26, 2014 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: contemporary
Fred Clumly is the chief of police in Batavia, NY, nearing retirement, when a strange bearded man, known only as the Sunlight Man ends up in one of his cells, accused only, for the time being, of painting LOVE across two lanes of traffic. But the Sunlight Man is not the harmless funnyman he appears to be. Who is the Sunlight Man, and what does he have in store for the inhabitants of Batavia, New York? The people of Batavia will never be the same, and an old and storied family, in particular, wil ...more
I fall into the category of readers who have been through all of John Gardner's criticism, much of his fiction, and have loved it all. The Sunlight Dialogues is not a disappointment because of its size, but for its author's use of it. Most of the time, if's Gardner showing off his considerable capabilities. But the story wrapped in all this wondrous prosing is only mildly interesting, and severely dated--not a picture of the times. When you find yourself able to skim large chunks as the author c ...more
Apr 07, 2012 Davis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
John Gardner's epic probably fits his ideal of a "moral" fiction to the teeth, but this in turn means the work is simply exhaustive--no moment for detail is left un-investigated; no character is dealt with tersely or for mere narrative means. Some of the characters are interesting and much of the description is downright mesmerizing, yet I cannot say I enjoyed the avoidance of brevity like a disease. It also doesn't help that the ending didn't seem to tie enough of the narrative together. I seri ...more
Paul Rouleau
Jan 08, 2016 Paul Rouleau rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Began this the other day. Currently reading three or four other books, so it's not high priority. Written in 1972, and it shows. I'm interested enough to keep reading, but books that depict "counter-cultural" types doing battle with straight-laced authority figures feel mighty dated in 2013. The hero is a hippie vagrant and the villain is a small town sheriff - sounds 60s hack enough? Enough people have said good things about this book that I'll keep reading, though.
justin louie
3.5 or 3.7 even; pretty longwinded but some very real and heartbreaking characterizations amidst the convoluted plot. things started clicking for me thematically in the final stretch, probably too late for a 746 pg novel, but then again, my attention span is to blame. i'll probably read it again in several years. really fantastic writing, though, although it lacks the gut punch and incisiveness/brevity of grendel.
Nov 11, 2009 Sandy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
this was a difficult read for me, long, complicated but worthwhile. There's little "sunlight" in Gardner's exploration of the interior processes of his several main characters. I don't know why I had never read the book before. It came out in 1972 but I don't remember knowing about it then. Could be that the "Tabacco Farm Network" in Plymouth NC (where we were living at the time) didn't mention it's publication.
Oct 14, 2009 Daryl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An epic that demands patience as it meanders through apparently unrelated happenings in a small which are, seemingly, being orchestrated by a madman. A preamble to "Mickleson's Ghosts" which finds to author in a less apocalyptic mood.
His, the author's death at a fairly young age, appears problematic when set in the context of the conspiratorial themes which permeate these two books.
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Book Talk: The Sunlight Dialogues 10 3 Jul 09, 2012 09:07AM  
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John Champlin Gardner was a well-known and controversial American novelist and university professor, best known for his novel Grendel, a retelling of the Beowulf myth.

Gardner was born in Batavia, New York. His father was a lay preacher and dairy farmer, and his mother taught English at a local school. Both parents were fond of Shakespeare and often recited literature together. As a child, Gardner
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“Don’t be fooled by clever hands, sir” the Sunlight Man said. He’d be lying with the back of his head on his hands, as he always lay. “Entertainment’s all very well, but the world is serious. It’s exceedingly amusing, when you think about it: nothing in life is as startling or shocking or mysterious as a good magician’s trick. That’s what makes stagecraft deadly. Listen closely, friend. You see great marvels performed on the stage - the lady sawed in half, the fat man supported by empty air, the Hindu vanishing with the folding of a cloth - and the subtlest of poisons drifts into your brain: you think the earth dead because the sky is full of spirits, you think the hall drab because the stage is adazzle with dimestore gilt. So King Lear rages, and the audience grows meek, and tomorrow, in the gray of old groceries, the housewife will weep for Cordelia and despair for herself. They weren’t fools, those old sages who called all art the Devil’s work. It eats the soul.” 1 likes
“Yes! Clumly had thought. There it was. Whatever it meant, spiritualistic trash for old ladies or the roaring secret of life and death, for a minute there Clumly had believed he wanted to know.” 1 likes
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