First Light

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Overview

Hugh Welch has cared for his little sister Dorsey ever since they were children, when Dorsey looked at him as though he were a god. But when Dorsey returns to their small Michigan hometown with a successful career as an astrophysicist and a happy family life, Hugh, who has a long habit of worrying about his sister, realizes that it’s his own life he has to cure, not Dorsey’s. As they explore their complicated history over one hot Fourth of July weekend, they’ll come to terms with the experiences that put such ...
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First Light

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Overview

Hugh Welch has cared for his little sister Dorsey ever since they were children, when Dorsey looked at him as though he were a god. But when Dorsey returns to their small Michigan hometown with a successful career as an astrophysicist and a happy family life, Hugh, who has a long habit of worrying about his sister, realizes that it’s his own life he has to cure, not Dorsey’s. As they explore their complicated history over one hot Fourth of July weekend, they’ll come to terms with the experiences that put such distance between them and discover the imperfect love that ties them as siblings.

A car dealer who has never left his Michigan hometown and his younger sister, a brilliant astrophysicist, reunite in this magnificent achievement by "one of the finest of American writers."--Boston Globe.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A remarkably supple novel that gleams with the smoky chiaroscuro of family love.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times 
 
“A novel of great emotional power, of heart-twisting intimacy and intellectual force.” —Newsday  
 
“An intricately reflective, simply beautiful book.” —Los Angeles Times
 
“Only a virtuoso could manage such a narrative, and Baxter is and does.” —The Washington Post Book World
 
“A book one reads with pleasure from the first word to the last for the delicacy and truth of its perceptions.” —J. M. Coetzee
 
“[Baxter’s] prose is like filtered late-summer light dancing through leaves not quite turned yet—a light bathed with sadness, humor, and a clear, intelligent intensity.” —USA Today 
 
First Light is a novel that moves backward in time, traveling from past to present as though through a tunnel of memory. . . . Like Chekhov, [Baxter] is both tough-minded and compassionate, and he never makes his characters more or less than what they are. They are human, and that in itself is a rare achievement for a writer, a thing to be celebrated above and beyond all other achievements in this splendid book.” —Paul Auster
 
“Here is a voice worth listening to, a voice that has shown itself, in this wonderful, magical novel, to command the music of the spheres.” —San Jose Mercury News
 
“Without question, Charles Baxter is among our best contemporary writers—always graceful, always dramatic. Superlatives are insufficient. Here is literature. Here is art.” —Tim O’Brien
 
“Charles Baxter asks the most wonderful questions and addresses the most essential subjects—the things we have been thinking but haven’t . . . known how to begin to say.” —Francine Prose
 
“It’s exceedingly rare to come across writing as seamless and engrossing as Charles Baxter’s.” —The Plain Dealer
 
“Light and dark, the motifs of Baxter’s haunting and human fiction touch the reader in evocative ways.” —The Boston Globe
 
“Baxter’s passionate writing raises the level of regard for life itself, let alone the art of writing.” —Howard Norman
 
“Moves over everyday details with the inexorable, contrary tug of memory.” —Time
 
First Light illuminates the way out of the abyss and into the miracles and wonders that comprise life.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune
 
First Light is a daredevil technical feat, and very much more besides that. Charles Baxter’s long-term admirers will find that it satisfies their highest hopes.” —Madison Smartt Bell 
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Having published two books of short stories, Baxter does a masterful job of combining form with function in his first novel. The story begins with a Fourth of July celebration. Dorsey Welch and her husband, Simon, an actor, are spending the holiday with Dorsey's brother, Hugh. The visit is awkward. Years, distance and experience separate brother and sister. Dorsey, always the smart one, is a professor of astrophysics. Her brother, once a promising athlete, is now a car salesman. Simon exacerbates the situation; a sly, insinuating man, he continually mocks his stolid brother-in-law. Chapter by chapter, the story moves back in time, through the siblings' college years, their adolescence and childhood, to Hugh's first glimpse of his baby sister, exploring the things that shaped these people. The characterizations here are superb, as is the writing. There are no fireworks in this story, apart from the Fourth of July pyrotechnics, but this imaginatively conceived, evocative novel will hold the reader's attention from first to last. (September 8)
Library Journal
As an astrophysicist Dorsey Welch studies the origins of the universe and the gravitational forces that make it cohere. Similarly, this novel moves backward in time to trace the evolving antagonisms and the bonds of love between Dorsey and her brother Hugh. At one point Hugh says to his sister, ``You always go . . . I always stay,'' and this simple statement sums up their radically different lives. Hugh remains in the small town where they were born, lives in the house inherited from his parents, and sells Buicks. Dorsey travels to California, bears the child of an eccentric professor, and marries an even more eccentric actor. Bridging all these differences, however, is a powerfully evoked sense of family. Baxter's style is sharp and elegant, and his characters are convincing. Albert E. Wilhelm, English Dept., Tennessee Technological Univ., Cookeville
Elizabeth Tallent
"A intricately reflective, simply beautiful book." -- Los Angeles Times
Michiko Kakutani
"A remarkable supple novel that gleams with a smoky chiaroscuro, a familiar love we recall through time." -- The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307948519
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/14/2012
  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 835,757
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles Baxter is the author of the novels The Feast of Love (nominated for the National Book Award), The Soul Thief, Saul and Patsy, and Shadow Play, and the collections Gryphon, Believers, A Relative Stranger, Through the Safety Net, and Harmony of the World. He lives in Minneapolis and teaches at the University of Minnesota and in the M.F.A. Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

Biography

Although his body of work includes poetry and essays, award-winning writer Charles Baxter is best known for his fiction -- brilliantly crafted, non-linear stories that twist and turn in unexpected directions before reaching surprising yet nearly always satisfying conclusions. He specializes in portraits of solid Midwesterners, regular Joes and Janes whose ordinary lives are disrupted by accidents, chance encounters, and the arrival of strangers; and his books have garnered a fierce and loyal following among readers and critics alike.

Born in Minneapolis in 1947, Baxter was barely a toddler when his father died. His mother remarried a wealthy attorney who moved the family onto a sprawling estate in suburban Excelsior. From prep school, Baxter was expected to attend Williams, but instead he chose Macalester, a small, liberal arts college in St. Paul. Intending to pursue a career in teaching and writing, he enrolled in the Ph.D. program at the State University of New York at Buffalo, attracted by a faculty that included such literary luminaries of the day as John Barth and Donald Barthelme.

After grad school, Baxter moved to Michigan to teach at Wayne State University in Detroit. He spent more than a decade concentrating on writing poetry, but after a particularly discouraging dry spell, he decided to try his hand at fiction. He labored long and hard over three novels, none of which was accepted for publication. Then, just as he was about to give up altogether, he attempted one last trick. He whittled the three novels down to short stories, replacing epic themes, extraordinary characters, and ambitious story arcs with the small, quiet stuff of ordinary life. It was a good decision, In 1984, his first collection of short fiction, Harmony of the World, was published. Another anthology followed, then a debut novel. Published in 1987, First Light charmed readers with its unusual structure (the story unfolds backwards in time) and a cast of richly, draw, fully human characters.

Baxter continued to publish throughout the 1990s, alternating between short and full-length fiction, and with each book he garnered larger, more appreciative audiences and better reviews. His breakthrough occurred in 2000 with Feast of Love, a novel composed of many small stories that form a single, cohesive narrative. Described by The New York Times as "...rich, juicy, laugh-out-loud funny and completely engrossing," Feast of Love was nominated for a National Book Award.

"Every time I've finished a book, it feels to me as if the washrag has been rung out," Baxter confessed in a 2003 interview. Yet he keeps on crafting absorbing stories infused with quiet (sometimes absurdist) wit and a compassionate understanding of the human condition. A longtime director of the creative writing program at the University of Michigan, he is known as a generous mentor, and several of his students have gone on to forge successful literary careers of their own.

Good To Know

In our exclusive interview, Baxter shared some fascinating insights with us:

"My novels are sometimes criticized for being episodic, or structurally weird. And they are! I like them that way. It's fairly late in the day -- 2003 as I write -- in the history of the novel, and I think it's fair for writers to mess around with that form, and to stop thinking that they have to write books that move smoothly from the first act to the second act, and then to the climax and the denouement. I like digressions, asides, intrusions, advice, anything that gets in the way of a smooth narcotic flow. New novels should not look like old novels, except when they want to."

"My father died when I was eighteen months old, and I expect the unexpected to happen in life and in art, and my fiction is full, or loaded down, with unexpected fatalities of one kind or another. For me, that's realism."

"I had an unhappy childhood that I thought was happy, and I dove into books as inspiration and relief and comfort and security and information about what people did and how they thought. I can still get happy and sentimental just over the thought of libraries -- the image of a woman sitting quietly and reading is a terrifically sexy image for me."

"Like many writers, I'm private and quiet and observant and bookish. For a physical outlet, I lift weights at the gym two or three times a week, and I don't quit unless and until I've worked up a fairly good sweat. Many writers need an outlet like that to counter the sedentary nature of what they do. I don't have any wild delusions about the greatness of my work: I am happy to work humbly in this field where so many writers have created so many immortal manifestations of the mind and spirit. As Henry James said, you work in the dark; you do what you can; the rest is the madness of art."

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    1. Hometown:
      Minneapolis, Minnesota
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 13, 1947
    2. Place of Birth:
      Minneapolis, Minnesota
    1. Education:
      B. A., Macalester College, 1969; Ph.D., State University of New York at Buffalo, 1974
    2. Website:

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2004

    A beautiful novel

    'First Light' is a unique and beautiful story about family and the relationships that define who we are. Baxter's writing is, as always, luminous and yet full of longing. He is a master of creating characters whose lives become intertwined with our own. This book is a great read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2000

    Read and loved it in a lit course

    I read this book about 7 years ago in college - time has drained some of the details from my memory, but the pleasure I got from reading it has stayed with me, so much so that I may buy it again. I heard the author speak not long after reading it and enjoyed that, too. The backwards narrative technique, in my opinion, is the best part about the book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2014

    Firestar

    Sorry i wasnt on but i will be on all day tommorow so ask me any ?'s you have

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2014

    Alpha

    Gets up and stretches walking out

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2005

    stirring

    When I got to the end of this novel I cried for twenty minutes, it was so beautiful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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