“Haunting, beautifully-written, and heart-wrenching.”—Harlan Coben
With his shattering, extraordinarily affecting debut novel, Light of Day, author Jamie M. Saul made a powerful, incontrovertible statement: a major American writer had arrived on the literary scene. The author of The First Warm Evening of the Year, Saul mesmerizes with the unforgettable story of a small-town Midwestern professor struggling to come to terms with a devastating tragedy and the strange and terrible mystery at its core.
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About the Author
Jamie M. Saul was born and raised in New York City. He has written for various magazines, including People and Playboy. A two-time guest professor at Yale University, he was the recipient of the Poynter Fellowship. He is the author of the novel Light of Day. He lives in a small town in the Hudson Valley.
Read an Excerpt
Light of DayA Novel
By Jamie Saul
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Jamie Saul
All right reserved.
The road into Gilbert, Indiana, is U.S. 40. It's the old highway that cuts east and west through town, a few blocks north of Main Street. Nobody drives it much these days, nobody who isn't from Gilbert or nearby. Nobody who's in a hurry, and most people driving through Gilbert are in a hurry, tearing across the interstate on their way to somewhere else.
They built the interstate, and the mall that's just off the exit, about thirty years ago. The smaller stores in town would have gone out of business, the larger ones would have followed the money, and downtown would have been a ghost town if not for a few far-thinking people on the city council who came up with the plan to save downtown by turning it into an outdoor shopping mall. Now there are parking lots on the side streets and clean, expansive sidewalks with shade trees and benches so people can sit and talk; so they can spend their time strolling down the street, looking in store windows, shopping and browsing, instead of looking for places to park their cars.
And of course, the college helps keep the town alive. The students and teachers shop in all the stores, eat at the little restaurants, at Paul's just off Main Street, where they serve the tenderloin sandwiches deepfried on a soft bun with bread-and-butter pickles, or the meat loaf and mashed potatoes with gravy that they make at the coffee shop inside the Gilbert Hotel, which isn't a hotel anymore but an office building. Not that Gilbert was ever known for its cuisine or convenient downtown shopping. It's the air that everyone notices, or did until the winds of change blew through town and the EPA helped clean things up.
But no matter which way the wind blows, the air is always tinged with sulfur, one of the by-products of coal, the leitmotif of industrialized Indiana. If not for coal, Gilbert would be just like all the other postindustrial towns--they strip-mine coal out on the east side. It's the coal-burning power plants that keep the lights throughout the state glowing in the night. Most of that coal comes from Gilbert. But it's the sulfur that does the trick.
In sunlight it turns the air sepia, like an old daguerreotype photograph or a silent movie. The rose tint and warm brown hues look so soft and welcoming, you'd like to crawl in, pull them over your head and hide from the coming millennium. You might even think the past isn't such a bad place to step back into. Then you see the old-timers, who look like they've stepped right out of that past, hobbling down Main Street wrinkled and weathered like old leather, emphysemic and broken down, like hard times, gnarled and grizzled. It makes you think your times aren't so bad after all.
Highway 40 crosses Highway 41--another old road which heads all the way from Chicago to Miami, Florida--over by Third Street, then runs past the railroad tracks by the Wabash River and across the nameless bridge that shakes and sways, like the hammock you hook to a couple of trees at the end of May and don't take down until the leaves start to turn in late September. But if you're not in too much of a hurry, when you get to where the highways intersect and you look south you'll see the ruins rising like an apparition.
The ruins stand in grand decay on the rise of a slow hill above the muddy banks of the Wabash in Fairmont Memorial Park. It's just a façade, a replica of the Parthenon never fully realized. It was going to be the new post office back in 1936, when the WPA workers came to town. They went to work on the college first, built the Fine Arts building and laid down those beautiful brick sidewalks, and gaslights, and the grassy quadrangle, designed by some long-forgotten architect in love with eighteenth-century England. Then they moved their gear to the river and started working on the ruins and the park where it stands.
Sixty years later and all the bricks are pockmarked and broken. The corroded Doric columns strain to support the majestic entrance. The four splendid windows are sealed with cinder blocks, braced against the damp river air. A bas-relief of the American eagle--about to take wing across eternal America--stares stoically past the broken patio and rotting cement steps. Anachronistic and decrepit, the ruins are a monument to a past that was, if not efficient, certainly ambitious.
People from town, students from the college, come out to the park to sit in the shade of the sycamores, and on the steps of the ruins; lie in the grass by the river with their girlfriends; lean against the solid walls and think the private thoughts people think when their lives are falling apart or coming together. When they need to resolve their worries, or piece together their plans. It's the quiet place they come to when they want to spend time doing nothing, or nothing more exciting than watching the river flow, thinking about their good luck or recent misfortune. When they need to feel the comfort of the past. Or when there's no place left to go. This is where they found the body.
Excerpted from Light of Day by Jamie Saul Copyright © 2005 by Jamie Saul. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
“Like an arrow to the heart, Jamie Saul’s page-turner novel sears through the psyche to hit bedrock.”
“One of the most satisfying and poignant novels readers will come across this year.”
“A heartfelt examination of one man’s grief with a dark and intriguing mystery pulsating beneath the surface.”
“LIGHT OF DAY is a haunting, beautifully-written and heart-wrenching debut.”
“From its poignant opening chapter to its breathtaking conclusion, nothing about this writer or book is less than extraordinary.”
Reading Group Guide
Respected professor and noted author Jack Owens brought his son, Danny, to Gilbert, Indiana, to escape a past and a betrayal too painful to endure elsewhere. In this quiet midwestern college town Jack believed they'd be safe to start over -- and for ten years, it appeared to be so. But on an ordinary-seeming day at the end of a semester everything changed in an instant -- a moment transformed by tragedy into the bitter realization of a parent's worst nightmare.
The world Jack thought he knew and the future he had anticipated for himself and his boy has abruptly come apart at the seams, leaving him broken and haunted by the twin, life-shattering questions Why? and What next? Redemption, however, could come with the arrival of an unexpected new friend -- a local detective tormented by his own personal demons -- whose world-weary sympathy and prescient understanding slowly help Jack to cope with the unacceptable.
But with healing comes clarity -- and secrets best left unrevealed by the stark, glaring light of reality. For Jack Owens, the toughest road back to life winds through inhospitable country, where memory taunts and misleads ... and the shocking truth about what drove one exceptional teenager to commit an unthinkable and irreversible act hides in the shadows.
Author Jamie M. Saul's Light of Day is a brilliant, powerful, and illuminating masterwork of literary art -- a story that shines with lyrical, tragic beauty that will long linger in the mind and the heart, immediately elevating its creator into the upper ranks of contemporary American novelists.
Questions for discussion
- Two of the overriding themes of this novel are morality and personal ethics, verbalized by Danny's question: "Which is more important, honesty or loyalty?" How do Jack, Anne, and Danny deal with this question?
- How does the author use the opening chapter to establish the themes of the novel?
- How does Jack's friendship with Lois compare to his friendship with Marty?
- In a classic tragedy, the protagonist's strengths are inseparable from his weaknesses. How does this apply to Jack? Is he a weak or strong man?
- Are Anne's reasons for leaving Jack and Danny justifiable, or should she have subordinated her needs to those of her husband and son?
- Why doesn't Jack try to contact Anne after Danny's death? Is he keeping the "deal," is he afraid to show weakness, is he truly unable to track her down, or is this an act of selfishness?
- The themes of ambivalence and irony are prevalent in this novel. How does Jack's ambivalence about Danny's birth influence his decisions before and after Anne leaves? How does the irony of Danny's motives for his suicide he was raised with a value system that gave him guidelines for "doing the right thing" that created the conflict that he could not deal with -- weigh on Jack? What are other examples of ambivalence and irony in the book?
- Jack's life is one of self-denial. How does this affect his relationship with Maggie? Is he honest about his reasons for breaking up with her? Is he being "loyal" to Danny? Is he punishing himself?
- What is the author trying to establish when Jack imagines seeing an ocean liner rising from the field (pp. 260-261)?
- Is Jack's leaving town and allowing an innocent man to be charged with murder an abandonment of the principles of his "deal," or are they part of it. How does this apply to Danny's question about honesty and loyalty? What does this say about Jack's relationship with Marty?
- What will Jack do after he leaves Gilbert? Will he continue to persevere?
About the author
Jamie M. Saul was born and raised in New York City, where he currently lives with his wife. After earning his bachelor's degree from Indiana State University, he was awarded a scholarship to the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. His short fiction has been published in Calypso Literary Journal and he has written for People and Playboy magazines. Saul has been a two-time guest professor at Yale University, where he was the recipient of the Pointer Fellowship. Light of Day is his first novel..