Authors and Friends Newsletter
Greetings from frosty and windy Albertville, Alabama, where we are back from a wonderful Thanksgiving trip to Arlington to visit Robert in his new digs. Warner House Press continues to wind down several major projects and anticipate several for after the New Year. We will be taking a hiatus from the newsletter in December and possibly resume early next year. Please let me know if you wish us to continue this newsletter:
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Review: The Sunlight Dialogues
This review first appeared in the Oct-Dec 2022 issue of Land+Lake.
“You’ll like this.” I remember being handed a copy of The Sunlight Dialogues by the local bookseller, a nice woman of indeterminate age who had caught on to my likes and dislikes over the course of several years. She was not wrong. Gardner’s complex book has stayed with me since its publication in 1973. Re-readings over the years have brought out more and more of the texture and depth of this forgotten, fascinating novel. Then, in the early ‘90’s, editor Stewart O’Nan discovered Gardner’s general plan for the novel, subsequently published in On Writers and Writing, a posthumous collection of book reviews and odds and ends. The general plan is revelatory, not only for those who love the novel, but also for any aspiring writer. In it, Gardner exhaustively details the underlying philosophical foundations, the plot, major characters and what they represent, and even the various literary styles he employs in the work. Perhaps it was his early training as a chemist that made Gardner pin down every aspect of the novel. Any writer intent on improving their craft should be grateful that he did.
The Sunlight Dialogues takes place during 1966 in Batavia, NY (Gardner’s hometown), and concerns the mysterious appearance of the Sunlight Man, a crazed, but crafty, anarchist first seen painting the word LOVE across a busy street. Chief Clumly, a 64-year-old police officer attempts to discover who the Sunlight Man is, and the reason for his actions. These two also engage in four lengthy philosophical discussions, with Clumly held captive by the Sunlight Man; discussions that highlight the conflict between freedom and responsibility, between the individual and society, all expertly tied to the conflict in values between Babylon and Israel. The points discussed are as relevant today as they were back in 1966.
This is not a dry-as-bones, dusty “classic,” however. There is an intriguing plot, plenty of suspense, and superb characterization along the way. Throw in finely detailed descriptions of rural America and a readable style, and you have a novel that bears many re-readings.
I was not alone in liking the novel. It stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for fourteen weeks, firmly establishing an already successful writing career. Gardner’s previous work, Grendel, a retelling of Beowulf from the creature’s point of view, is still popular fifty years after it was first published. John Gardner, with his rockstar good looks and ever-present pipe, was a popular professor of writing and medieval literature, writer of a wide range of works, and an incisive, no-holds-barred literary critic.
The Sunlight Dialogues, along with most of Gardner’s fiction and non-fiction, is readily available via Open Road Media in eBook and Audio formats. Unfortunately, many of them do not contain the original illustrations. Paperback editions are mostly out of print; it is best to purchase an older hardback version. One can only hope that the Library of America will produce a uniform edition soon.
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