Night Blindness by Susan Strecker; published 2014 by Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Women’s Fiction
Review in a word: Cleansing
- How do people handle grief and guilt?
- Is there anything wrong with growing up and staying close to home?
Opening line: “I hadn’t been able to drive at night since Will died.”
Jenson dropped out of college to run away with her art professor and live in New Mexico, where she lives smoking pot, working at a coffee shop, and modeling for artists. She has night blindness, which is exactly what it sounds like.
When her father is diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, she decides to return to her hometown in Connecticut to be with him during radiation. It’s hard to face her family, who believe she’s still the same straight-A, piano prodigy she was when she left. They have no idea of her involvement in Will’s death. It’s hardest to face Ryder Anderson, her father’s brain surgeon and her old boyfriend, because it seems he’s changed just as much as she has.
What hasn’t changed is the chemistry between them, but Jenson can’t be with him again because of the guilt of what they’d done. As the brain tumor slowly makes her father’s life harder, Jenson feels an increasing need to confess what they did.
Have you ever felt the overwhelming need to confess? You’re terrified, because you don’t know how people will react to the truth of what you’ve done. But you have to confess to relieve the pressure of the guilt in your heart.
This story tells that complex bundle of emotions so well. I know of other stories that focus on guilt and confession (like Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment), but this one is set in the modern day and is completely relatable. When you finally find out what happened, your heart breaks for Jenson—for the guilt she’s carried ever since she was 16, and the guilt that has ruled over her ever since.
The other theme in this book that I completely related with was returning home as an adult. Jenson isn’t happy with her life in New Mexico, and her sculptor husband who keeps pressuring her to move to Greece. Being at home again, she is reminded of who she was growing up—before the guilt—a piano prodigy, her father’s beloved daughter, an innocent girl. As her uncle Luke gently reintroduces her to playing piano, Jenson realizes that in running away, she’s completely lost sight of who she was supposed to be. But she’s determined to make things right this time.
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