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October Light
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Past Reads > October Light by John Gardner, pages 1 - 238

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George (georgejazz) | 504 comments Mod
Please comment here on October Light by John Gardner, pages 1 - 238.

George (georgejazz) | 504 comments Mod
I am over half way through this very entertaining, well crafted novel. There are two stories. The main story is the conflict between a brother and sister. The sister, Sally, is 82 years old. Her husband died about 20 years ago. The brother, James, is 73 (?). James inherited the farmhouse in Vermont from his father. Sally with no income and little savings has been forced to live with her brother. Sally had been a dentist and then ran a financially unsuccessful antique business. James destroyed Sally's television and locked her in her upstairs room. James had had is own way for many years and now Sally has affected his way of life. As the story evolves we learn about James and Sally's past. Sally, whilst locked in the room, is reading a novel and as the reader, we are also reading Sally's novel which follows a man who tried to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge, only to be rescued by drug smugglers. It's an interesting story as well. October Light is an easy to read novel with good character development and two interesting plots!

Irene | 560 comments I started this one but am not very far into it yet. I like the development of the brother and sister, even the daughter and grandson is well presented. I am curious where this secondary plot line is going to take the story. What will this novel, which Sally is reading, reveal about the primary plot line between the two elderly siblings? And, why is this book which we are reading along with Sally, missing pages? How will the missing pages add to the larger story?

George (georgejazz) | 504 comments Mod
In the 'trashy' Smugglers story, I think Gardner is showing that such fiction incorporates that worst features of the 'novel'. For example, it raises serious questions without answering them. There is a sensational plot, no character develops and the characters are not allowed to shape the action. In such novels, what's a few missing pages here and there! To answer your question Irene, I do not think the missing pages add to the larger story.
The story of the brother and sister is very well done with some surprising plot twists.

Irene | 560 comments So, I should not be trying to get some profound insight into the brother & sister story from the incertion off the smuggler story? If I skipped the sections from the "trashy" novel, I would not be missing anything?

George (georgejazz) | 504 comments Mod
I gained no profound insight. The trashy novel started off well but doesn’t go anywhere and the ending is off the planet!

Irene | 560 comments I was wondering if the missing pages would turn out to obscure the plot in some way indicating that Sally and James were missing parts of their mutual story leading to the anger between them. I am not sure that this internal trashy story is a positive addition to the larger novel. It feels like some waste of space and my time. It is dragging things out. I am almost at the half way point, but have to force myself to read.

George (georgejazz) | 504 comments Mod
Thankfully the second half of the novel is more about Sally and James. There probably are meant to be comparisons between what is happening in the main plot and characters and what happens in the trashy novel but as the stories progress I just didn't see it and for me it didn't matter. I had become focused on the characters of James and Sally.

Irene | 560 comments So I googled commentary on this novel.
Apparently, the relationship between James and Sally is supposed to be a retelling of the tension between England and the Colonies at the time of the Revolution. The trashy novel is part of his exploration of the theme of art as a moral force which apparently is present in his other novels. James negative reaction to TV and Sally's reading of this stupid novel is part of Gardner's conviction that fiction must be moral because it is a powerful force.

So, now I am looking for connections to the Revolution and not finding them. I will also be looking to see how this novel impacts Sally's behavior.

I am about 2/3 of the way through it.

George (georgejazz) | 504 comments Mod
I too didn't get any real insights or see any interesting links between the two stories, especially after about a quarter way through The Smugglers story.

Robert Towers in The New York Times, 26 December 1976 makes the following comment, "“The Smugglers of Lost Souls’ Rock.” It is a weird tale about a would‐be suicide a gang of philosophical marijuana smugglers who operate between San Francisco and Mexico. a rival gang of an Indian and two murderous but equally philosophical blacks, a creepy old paraplegic and his proud black cleaning woman, an orgy, an earthquake and a flying saucer. I suppose Gardner included this boring and exasperating farrago as a counterweight to the old‐American, narrow Yankee world of the true novel, as a surrealistic projection of the crazed new world of America. All sorts of thematic connections between the two can be discovered, if one is so inclined. Perhaps he included it as self‐parody, an elaborate joke. Perhaps having written it (in collaboration with his wife, we are told), he could not hear to throw it away. Whatever the case, the subnovel badly gets in the way of the main story and seriously wounds the novel as a whole."

Whilst I enjoyed the trashy novel to start with, I lost interest as the Smugglers story became a little too sensational.

That aside, the main story of the feud between Sally and James is full of interest, the characters are well developed and I enjoyed Gardner's comments on modernisation.

Irene | 560 comments Thanks for this critique. I am glad to read professional critics who also don't think the trashy novel works. I am now about 80% through and still don't see the Revolutionary War parallels that are supposed to be there. I wonder why this received the Pulitzer. Could this really be the best of 1976?

George (georgejazz) | 504 comments Mod
I think the feud between Sally and James is so well done that the novel has a lot of merit for the feud story alone. It's disappointing that Gardner allowed the Smugglers story to deteriorate with such detail!

message 13: by Julia (last edited Jun 18, 2018 05:50AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Julia Jones | 11 comments I'm also glad to hear that people were looking for a profound connection between the smuggler's story and the feud story. I was doing that as well.

Someone mentioned above that they were looking for a connection between Sally's behavior and the smuggler's story, and at one point Sally, in a rant to herself, imagines that she could have partaken in orgies herself, but she had been raised to be too chaste. She felt that she had missed out, having only had her husband as a lover, and being born at the wrong time. But, I didn't think it fit her character well, even with some of the other things we learn about her from James's memories. Anyway, that connection she made with the smugglers supported her taking such a hard stance against James: she felt she had already been cheated too much in life.

Irene, thanks for digging for that information about the author and his "art as a moral force" exploration. Now, the connection I made above, although I didn't think it really worked for the character, does make sense.

Irene | 560 comments I did think that her musing that she could missed out because she was raised to be so chased fit her background. We have James's memories of her sneaking out of the house to meet boys, her trying to be seductive, even her exposing her breasts to her little brother. So, if James is giving us an accurate picture of Sally, she had a bit of a wild streak that was tamped down.

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