Light from a Distant Star: A Novel

Light from a Distant Star: A Novel

by Mary McGarry Morris

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Overview

Light from a Distant Star is a gripping coming-of-age story with a brutal murder at its heart and a heroine as unforgettable as Harper Lee’s "Scout."

It is early summer and Nellie Peck is on the cusp of adolescence—gangly, awkward, full of questions, but keenly observant and wiser than many of the adults in her life. The person she most admires is her father, Benjamin, a man of great integrity. His family’s century old hardware store is failing and Nellie’s mother has had to go back to work. Nellie’s older half-sister has launched a disturbing search for her birth father. Often saddled through the long, hot days with her timid younger brother, Henry, Nellie is determined to toughen him up. And herself as well.

Three strangers enter Nellie’s protected life. Brooding Max Devaney is an ex-con who works in her surly grandfather’s junkyard. Reckless Bucky Saltonstall has just arrived from New York City to live with his elderly grandparents. And pretty Dolly Bedelia is a young stripper who rents the family’s small, rear apartment and becomes the titillating focus of Nellie’s eavesdropping.

When violence erupts in the lovely Peck house, the prime suspect seems obvious. Nellie knows who the real murderer is, but is soon silenced by fear and the threat of scandal. The truth, as she sees it, is shocking and unthinkable, and with everyone’s eyes riveted on her in the courtroom, Nellie finds herself seized with doubt.

No one will listen. No one believes her, and a man’s life hangs in the balance. A stunning evocation of innocence lost, Light from a Distant Star stands as an incredibly moving and powerful novel from one of America's finest writers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307451880
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 07/17/2012
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.86(h) x 0.73(d)

About the Author

MARY MCGARRY MORRIS is a New York Times bestselling author of several books, including Vanished, a National Book Award and PEN/Faulkner Award finalist; A Dangerous Woman, which was chosen by Time magazine as one of the "Five Best Novels of the Year" and was made into a major motion picture; and Songs In Ordinary Time, which was made into a CBS television movie and was an Oprah Book Club selection. She lives in Massachusetts.

Reading Group Guide

READING GROUP GUIDE
 
LIGHT FROM A DISTANT STAR
 
      
A note from the author:
 
In my original notes for Light From a Distant Star, the very first words written at the top of the page are “Heroism and Courage.  Story told looking back on childhood.”  Elsewhere in those seemingly random notes is the almost incomprehensible fact that when we look up at the stars we are seeing the past – and that the very light we are experiencing may well be from stars that no longer exist.  Swirling through this mix of ideas were memories of my own childhood, particularly the tree house two of my brothers built in our side yard.  I still remember it as being big and sturdy with room enough for all of us, even though a trip back home some years ago made me realize how small it actually must have been then.  But in a child’s life, refuge and safety enhance reality and magnify scale.  The tree house was our own structure, our own place to escape, in a tree that wasn’t ours on property we only rented, like the other tenants in the big old house we lived in on the corner.  Such is the thrall of a story that time, memory, and desire so easily confabulate literal truth into ideal truth, leaving one to wonder which is more necessary, more real.

1. Tolstoy’s first words in Anna Karenina are: “Happy families are all alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  Do you think the Pecks have been a happy family? Like so many families enduring the strains of teenage rebellion and financial problems are they beginning to come undone?

2. Nellie is at a point in her life when she is in need of heroes. Until her thirteenth summer, Benjamin Peck, Nellie’s principled and upstanding father, has been her hero. What is it about Max Devaney, a brooding loner, an ex-con, that attracts Nellie when he seems to be the complete opposite of her father?

3. Why is Nellie so often drawn to edgy, offbeat people: Jessica Cooper, Bucky Saltonstall, Max Devaney, Dolly Bedelia, the Shelby twins Roy and Rodney, as well as her caustic grandfather?

4. What purpose does the hand-to-hand combat manual from World War II, “Get Tough” serve in Nellie’s quest for courage and strength? Does it give her enough confidence to confront the truth around her? 

5. Is there any connection between Ruth Peck’s search for her “real” father and her sister Nellie’s ironically similar quest?

6. The Washington Independent Book Review writes, “Boone is Nellie’s doppelganger in animal form.”  How is this apparent in the novel?

7. Nellie’s grandfather’s junkyard, both eyesore and environmental hazard, sits right in the heart of Springvale. “It’s Charlie’s now,” locals say of anything broken-down, unwanted, unfixable. Is Max veritable human trash, also unwanted, shunned, discarded? Was his youthful conviction fair?

8. Sandy Peck regrets renting the back apartment to irresponsible and sexy Dolly Bedelia. How is her unsavory tenant, like Max, another reminder of her embarrassing childhood? 

9. In what ways is Nellie very much her father’s daughter, an idealist, a romanticist? If Nellie is still an innocent, can the same be said of her father?

10. Sandy Peck loves her husband, admires his intellect and tries to be loyal, especially in the children’s presence. Is her growing impatience with Benjamin justified? And how does it affect their children? Would it help or make things worse if she were more forceful and outspoken? Should parents openly discuss financial problems with their children?

11. Why does Nellie consider her relationship with her mother so much more complicated than her relationship with her father? Is one parent more honest with her than the other? Or are her confusing feelings often typical of the mother-daughter dynamic?

12. Ruth is far more aware of Benjamin’s failings than Nellie. Are family troubles the catalyst for Ruth’s determination to contact her birth father? Or is that need, that identity crisis a natural stage in the life of an adoptee?

13. What is the significance of Tenley Humboldt’s statement that when he was bullied and humiliated as a child Benjamin stood by and did nothing?

14. Upon seeing Lazlo’s painting of the children’s tree house, Nellie thinks: “It looked like their tree house, but it didn’t.  His was a nest of boards and sticks, without nails or bolts, more image than structure. More hope than reality.  An idea that with the first strong wind would come crashing down.” Is this emblematic of Nellie’s experiences?

15. At the time of the murder trial, Nellie is faced with an overwhelming moral dilemma. She believes as sincerely in one man’s innocence as she does in another man’s guilt, though without real, tangible, scientific proof of either. So, how can she destroy one man in order to save another? Is it acceptable to tell a lie in order to live in the truth?  

Customer Reviews

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Light from a Distant Star 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting story told from a thirteen year old girl's viewpoint••• This is an adult book with adult situations and told brillently! Well worth reading
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a wonderfulmnovel
GreatImaginations on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was seriously one of the strangest books I have ever read. I'm trying to get into more literary fiction, and so far I have liked it very much. Some of the stuff I read is borderline, but I think this fit the description of literary fiction very well. It definitely had a distinct style and voice. More on that in a minute. It has been compared in some reviews to To Kill a Mockingbird and I really can't comment on that because that is one classic I have not read yet. I know. But it's on the list and I will get to it at some point. The story here is tragic. And to be honest, kind of hard to find. It's buried in there well. There isn't much of a story at all for the first 100 or so pages. If you are looking for a quickly paced and riveting novel, this isn't it. Yeah, there's a murder. And a trial. But it's certainly not a legal thriller either. I guess you could call it a coming-of-age story, but personally, I don't think that works either. The narrative is meandering and it definitely has elements of a character study. I guess what I am trying to say is that Light from a Distant Star is very much a genre-bending read. It's a literary fiction, coming-of-age, murder mystery, character study novel. Phew! And still that doesn't completely cover it. Like I said, it takes a while to get to the point. But when it finally does it's worth it. There were a few times when I contemplated putting it down because it really wasn't doing anything for me. But then I was like, "Oh, what the heck, I'll read a couple of more pages." And then from there it turned into 20 more pages, and then 50, and before I knew it, I was really into the story and didn't want to put it down. And I didn't. I stayed up until dawn reading this, and I'm still not sure whether I liked it or not. I think I did, but it was so different from anything I have ever read before, that it's very hard for me to rate, summarize and review. It's style was a bit strange too. It felt like it was written in a different time, almost historical, but it wasn't. It's contemporary. Weird. Very weird. And that's what I mean about distinctive style. It was very much like a game of 'Chutes and Ladders.' Very up and down and all over the place, but in a good way. I'd definitely recommend it to fans of literary fiction. Maybe Jodi Picoult fans and fans of that type of fiction. But keep in mind the distinctive style and that there is a plot, it is just more of a character study than plot-driven. And that's just my personal opinion. And the characters aren't very likeable. Well, most of them anyway. You'll see what I mean. If you think this was a strange review, wait until you pick up the book. It gets weirder.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I did not like this book nor the author's style of writing.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ill miss u too. Ill visit sometimes. Bye. She left.