Sunlit Night is breezy, like a good summer read; yet thought provoking, humorous and at times dark. This is the debut novel by Rebecca Dinerstein and is an impressive first effort. It’s the story of strange and estranged families, and in particular, two young adults who must find themselves despite their familial dysfunction.
Early in the novel, we discover Frances and Yasha, both New Yorkers, in separate tales. Frances, a neurotic recent college graduate dealing with romantic heartbreak and a flawed family, decides to accept an artist’s apprenticeship in Norway (above the Arctic Circle) to escape the oppressiveness of Manhattan and create space between herself and all that is familiar to her. Yasha, a Russian immigrant, has just graduated high school and works side by side with his father in their Brighton Beach bakery. Abandoned ten years earlier by his mother, she makes a mysterious reappearance and breaks his father’s heart all over again - literally. His father’s last wish is to be buried at the top of the world, which is where Frances’s and Yasha’s lives intersect.
Frances acclimates to the far north climate, culture and eternal sunshine with curiosity and wit, while video conferencing home with her parents and sister, pleading with them to ease their infighting. Yasha on the other hand, mature beyond his years, but longing to belong to someone, is dealing with manhood, the surprise reemergence of his flighty mother, and his father’s death.
While overall situations are a bit fantastical, Dinerstein expresses realistic thoughts and feelings so eloquently that I had to stop to appreciate her acute awareness. When describing her father’s discipline in his work, “But discipline, I felt certain, had to be paired with joy. Otherwise it went to waste. Waste, like pictures that nobody sees, or waking up early without then slicing your bread, nodding to the weather, and relishing the fabric of your sleeves as you push your arms through.”
It is with this mindfulness Sunlight Night continues, yet is infused heavily with clever humor. It’s the bittersweet and quirky story of two lost souls that find comfort in each other. I hope to see more of Rebecca Dinerstein as she goes through her own writing maturation process.
Vickie’s rating: 3.5 stars