Light from Distant Stars
by Shawn Smucker
My rating: 1.5 / 5
Genre: Christian drama
The book opens on the main character, Cohen, finding his father dead in the basement of the funeral home where Cohen works with his father. In the ensuing difficulties that come from such an event, Cohen finds himself beset with memories of his childhood and adolescent, split definitively by an event that basically destroyed his family. The story highlights multiple father-son relationships.
As you can see by my rating, I did not care for this book. For one thing, I was expecting more of an investigation into how the father died than was presented, especially considering that most summaries I read ended with, “Did he kill his father?” As it turns out, it was more introspection and reminiscing.
Even as I started to realize that this book was more drama than mystery, it still presented me with little of interest. There are two threads followed–Cohen in present time dealing with what happened to his father (Spoiler: he wasn’t even dead at the very beginning of the book; he was near death, but was in the hospital for a week before dying, and the reason that Cohen thought his father was dead when he wasn’t is never explained, even though he questions it himself. This leads me to feel like this was just sensationalism for the blurb.) and his memories of significant events of his past. The present-time storyline is fairly uneventful, filled with light conversations with his pregnant sister, confessions to a retired priest, and then sudden action near the end of the book that I didn’t really understand the point of. The past-time storyline has a lot more going on, though it drags a bit here and there too.
There are 2 more significant events in his past, one of which led to the split that broke up his family, and the other of which comes across as a supernatural element, which is maybe a bit confusing in this book. After some time, I came to suspect what was really going on, and turned out to be correct. However, it is severely lacking in explanation–not about how this supernatural memory came to be, but about how it actually made sense even in context. The extra half a point in my rating is because this story arc was at least a little interesting to me as I went through it, even though I figured out what was going on more quickly than I think I was meant to.
Building from that, because of the supernatural element, as well as a particular scene in the present-day storyline, I had a very difficult time knowing what was real later in the book, and I am not sure that was meant to be the case. It led me to be fairly unimpressed by the sort-of twisty action scene that happened near the end. Also, there was one huge plot thread just left hanging…something that happened during Cohen’s adolescence that came to light near the end that should have had repercussions, and instead, somehow just became a catalyst for Cohen’s realization (or reminder) that his father was not quite how he’d always seen him.
I wanted to like this book (which I suppose is a silly statement, because we don’t often start reading a book that we’re not wanting to like). I read a couple of reviews by others that were glowing, and the premise sounded interesting. However, by the time I was 75% through, I felt like nothing had happened, and I just wasn’t getting the point of it. There is also quite a bit of description and figurative language, which bogged down the story for me. By the last half of the book, I had started to skim the descriptions, especially every time the narrator, whether a child, teenager, or adult, stared at the sky or the city. This happened often. It let me to wonder if there was some sort of symbolism I was simply missing.
Final thoughts: The book is labeled as Christian, though if I’d not seen that label on it, I never would have guessed it was meant to be Christian. The main character does visit a church and confess several times through the book, and there is a bit of a heart change near the end, but to me, it was fairly shallow. This book is simply not my taste, but for those who enjoy descriptive and figurative writing styles and drama and introspection, it may be a great read for you.
Thank you to Netgalley and Revell for providing me a copy of this book to review.
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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!