A Sudden Light
In the summer of 1990, fourteen-year-old Trevor Riddell gets his first glimpse of Riddell House. Built from the spoils of a massive timber fortune, the legendary family mansion is constructed of giant, whole trees, and is set on a huge estate overlooking Puget Sound. Trevor’s bankrupt parents have begun a trial separation, and his father, Jones Riddell, has brought Trevor to Riddell House with a goal: to join forces with his sister, Serena, dispatch Grandpa Samuel—who is flickering in and out of dementia—to a graduated living facility, sell off the house and property for development into “tract housing for millionaires,” divide up the profits, and live happily ever after.
But Trevor soon discovers there’s someone else living in Riddell House: a ghost with an agenda of his own. For while the land holds tremendous value, it is also burdened by the final wishes of the family patriarch, Elijah, who mandated it be allowed to return to untamed forestland as a penance for the millions of trees harvested over the decades by the Riddell Timber company. The ghost will not rest until Elijah’s wish is fulfilled, and Trevor’s willingness to face the past holds the key to his family’s future.
A Sudden Light is a rich, atmospheric work that is at once a multigenerational family saga, a historical novel, a ghost story, and the story of a contemporary family’s struggle to connect with each other. A tribute to the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, it reflects Garth Stein’s outsized capacity for empathy and keen understanding of human motivation, and his rare ability to see the unseen: the universal threads that connect us all.
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Reading Group Guide
When fourteen-year-old Trevor Riddell and his bankrupt father arrive at Riddell House on Puget Sound, Trevor knows little about his father’s family or the history of the spectacular, decaying mansion. He knows only that his parents have separated and they must convince his grandfather to allow them to sell the house if there is to be any chance of reuniting his parents. But he soon learns that the Riddell family secrets are as numerous as the house’s secret rooms, and that there is something—or someone—in the house with an agenda counter to his father’s. It becomes clear to Trevor that generations of Riddells are in in need of redemption before the family can be lifted from its collective guilt. Trevor may be the only one who can save them and, in turn, save himself from this oppressive cycle.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. The novel is narrated by Trevor as an adult looking back on his time at Riddell House. How does his adult point of view shape the narrative? see more