An Accidental Light
The first 50 pages of Elizabeth Diamond's debut novel, An Accidental Light, might be the most depressing you'll ever read. For readers not driven over the suicidal edge, there is eventual reprieve from the gratuitous suffering, and a story of hope--if that overused word still means anything.
Opening with an accidental death, when a British policeman named Jack drives into a young girl named Laura on the street, Light first chronicles his initial shock and trauma following the accident. It doesn't take long for him to shrink away from police duty on sick leave and start seeing a psychologist to help him "come to grips," or "make peace with himself," or any number of other ugly clichés that fail to capture his guilt and agony.
Then the perspective suddenly shifts, and the story starts following Lisa, Laura's devastated mother. Understandably, she also retreats into a battered shell, and grows increasingly detached from her raging, vengeful husband Derek. What follows is an odd, parallel narrative that alternates between these two protagonists and, oddly enough, between first- to second-person perspective. Jack, it turns out, is writing to his therapist, while Lisa addresses her late daughter in her mind.
These parallel narratives prove to be almost a perfect mirror image of one another, as Jack starts exploring his hatred for his absent father and Lisa her grudge against her imperfect mother; both protagonists blame their respective parents for the death of the other parent. The similarities don't end there, but continue to develop as each protagonist grows increasingly distant from their spouses and continue to unearth the past to give it a second look under the microscope.
For all her narrative peculiarities, Diamond rarely attempts to rouse suspense or surprise. In fact, her novel is cloaked by a sense of inevitability; you know that Jack and Lisa will encounter each other again, you know that Derek is "up to no good," you know that ghosts are real, and you know that hope--there's that word again--is on the horizon. It's not a story meant for plot twists or edgy suspense, but rather for reflection. What role does forgiveness play in the healing process? What can be gained by re-examining our assumptions about ourselves and our loved ones? What good can come from your worst nightmares coming true?
An Accidental Light is in some ways depressing, in others uplifting; in some ways beautiful, and in others ponderous. It's not a book for everyone, and may alienate with its aggressively depressing first half. But for those who enjoy the sound of heartstrings being plucked, it makes for a poignant little sonnet, and one worth hearing.