That was my initial experience of author Shawn Smucker’s clever first line in his genre-bending contemporary novel, Light from Distant Stars.
Protagonist Cohen Marah is stepping over a body. OK, I think, a detective story. Right? Wrong. By the end of the next page I know. Not detective. Something else is at play—and that body? It’s someone rather important. It’s Cohen’s dad.
Cohen, an adult in story present, is an unfortunate pastor’s kid who discovered his dad sleeping with a pretty Sunday School teacher. His mom split, and Cohen doesn’t find his way through. He begins to try, though. Now years later, as his dad is dying, he takes midnight walks to a nearby Catholic church where he gropes toward God with the help of retired Father James.
Cohen is suspended in the liminal space between stunted faith from incredible harm and healed faith. How do you hold the life of your dad, after all, and all the slivered complications of his life?
Here in his fourth book, Smucker departs from young adult fiction and memoir to pen a book that bends genre. Think Madeleine L'Engle with a sprinkle of Frank Peretti. On page 38, we get our first hint. Smucker writes, “That was the very spot where he first saw the Beast … furtive and floating and dark, the stuff of childhood nightmares. Only it hadn’t been a nightmare. It had been real.” Until that page, the pensive articulate voice hasn’t hinted that we’re about to enter the Twilight Zone.
Light from Distant Stars has a complex construction plan. It’s a time-slip novel that moves through time, which is oh-so-difficult to pull off well. Smucker knows his craft—and pulls off the needed moves well. Present-tense verbs signal story present while past-tense cues 1984.
And stars? Smucker sets up a fine objective correlative, a prolonged metaphor. Pay attention, I thought, when stars appear. That their light comes to us from the past. That city lights obscure them. That they are there, but “barely.”
Spiritual insights abound in this story, tenderly crafted and true. Light from Distant Stars is a fresh story told well. (Revell)