Between the Lines: Garth Stein’s new novel is ‘A Sudden Light’

Novelist Garth Stein, author of “A Sudden Light”
Novelist Garth Stein, author of “A Sudden Light” Courtesy of Simon & Schuster

Garth Stein’s “The Art of Racing in the Rain” became an immediate best-seller when it appeared in 2008. A down-on-his-luck race car driver travels around America, accompanied by his dog, Enzo, riding shotgun. The tweak is the novel is narrated wisely by the dog, a lab-terrier mix.

Now comes “A Sudden Light,” a ghostly story set mostly in a crumbling family mansion overlooking Puget Sound, Wash. (Simon & Schuster, $27, 416 pages). It’s told by the adult Trevor Riddell, recalling his coming-of-age stay at age 14 in the remote family mansion built by an ancestral lumber baron. There, he campaigns to reunite his separated parents against the backdrop of a dementia-inflicted grandfather, a confrontational aunt and the spirit of a woman who dances in the night.

Stein, who also wrote “How Evan Broke His Head and Other Secrets” and “Raven Stole the Moon,” is set to speak at the Avid Reader in Davis on March 7. Visit him at

Q: Critics are calling “A Sudden Light” a mix of genres.

A: There are a lot of moving parts, which was the fun part of writing it. At its core it’s about families and redemption, and the conflicts and resolutions between fathers and sons, with a spiritual element to it. I like to write stuff with a little American-style magical realism in it. There’s a ghost, but it’s not like “The Haunting of Hill House.”

Q: You went from a dog as narrator to a young teen’s point of view.

A: I explore different worlds in my four books, but the themes are similar. We must come to terms with our pasts if we’re going to move on to our futures. We have to be accountable for our actions, and for the actions of our predecessors.

Q: The old mansion is a character in itself.

A: I originally wrote the story in 2004 as a play. The idea was for the audience to feel like the house was alive, and I wanted to bring that into the novel. Trevor observes that the house is a sentient being, but with a slower metabolism.

Q: How did your personal history influence the story?

A: I grew up north of Seattle, in the shadows of the mansions and vast wealth of the timber and railroad barons who built the city. I was fascinated by that as a kid, so I wanted to explore that world in a fictional way.

Q: What’s the takeaway for readers?

A: I point to the epigraph, a quote from Anais Nin: “We do not see things the way they are, we see them as we are.” Everything in the book is about the idea that we bring a perspective to everything we see, and we have to be thoughtful and deliberate about our actions. If we are open, we can peel back the layers and look beyond the obvious reality, and see that coincidence and luck have real connections and are not simply random.

Bee Book Club update

In January, this column announced our “lineup so far” of authors who will appear for the 2015 Bee Book Club. One of them, Western mystery novelist C.J. Box, whose Joe Pickett series has been read by millions, was scheduled to appear March 19. Due to circumstances, he had to postpone his Sacramento visit until April 30.

Free tickets to his presentation and book-signing will become available at March 31, when the formal announcement of his appearance will appear in this column.

Box’s main character, the enormously likeable but hard-nosed Wyoming game warden/troubleshooter Joe Pickett, is off on his 15th adventure in “Endangered” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $27, 384 pages; on sale March 10). He goes on the warpath when his 18-year-old daughter is found in a ditch, beaten and barely alive. The story comes with a caution: Pickett doesn’t know the extent of the danger he’s about to face. Visit the author at

Also appearing for the Bee Book Club will be biographer-historian H.W. Brands for “Reagan: The Life” (June 11), and thriller novelist James Rollins of El Dorado Hills for “The Bone Labyrinth” (July 16).

Authors, moving

The 13th annual Authors on the Move will offer attendees the rare opportunity to chat and dine with 40-plus notable California authors representing a range of styles and genres. Sacramento’s premiere literary gala is the primary fundraiser for the Sacramento Public Library Foundation.

This year’s theme is “Once Upon a Time,” with keynote speaker Daniel Handler, a.k.a. Lemony Snicket. He’s the best-selling author of “All the Wrong Questions: Shouldn’t You Be in School?” and the best-selling children’s books “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” the basis for a 2004 movie. The master of ceremonies will be Beth Ruyak of Capital Public Radio’s “Insight.”

“This year, a third of our authors have written children’s books,” said Kathy Les, chair of the author selection committee. “It’s particularly apt to have a children’s theme and children’s author (as keynote speaker), as we’re raising money for our children’s summer-reading program.”

The evening will begin with a champagne reception and book-signing, followed by a four-course dinner with wine. The authors will move from table to table with each course to chat about their books and answer questions. Look for a post-dinner live auction and more author signings. Avid Reader at the Tower will be the bookseller.

Authors on the Move will be from 5 to 9 p.m. March 14 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, 1209 L St., Sacramento; (916) 443-1234. Doors will open at 5 p.m. Tickets are $225 per person or $1,700 for a table of eight. For more information (including the list of participating authors) and to purchase tickets, go to or call (916) 264-2990.

New titles ahead

What are you reading right now? Perhaps the better question is, What will you be reading next? Here are a few suggestions:

▪ In “The Valley,” an office-bound Army officer is dispatched to find a nearly forgotten platoon of soldiers holed up in a remote valley in Afghanistan (Dutton, $27, 448 pages; on sale March 10). What he discovers rocks everyone’s world. Author John Renehan served as an Army field artillery officer in Iraq.

▪ “Soil” by Jamie Kornegay falls into a sub-genre known as “Southern noir,” and is full of dark humor (Simon & Schuster, $26, 368 pages; on sale March 10). An idealistic environmental scientist moves to rural Mississippi with the dream of creating a fully sustainable farm; soon, the farm is bankrupt, his family has left him, and he discovers a body on his property. Is he being set up? Paranoia leads to more trouble.

▪ Michael Sears returns with his third Jason Stafford thriller, “Long Way Down” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $27, 352 pages). The setup: Stafford spent two years in prison for “financial crimes,” and now is an under-the-radar investigator for major Wall Street players. In this thriller, he works to prove the innocence of an engineer on the brink of a “biofuel beakthrough,” charged with insider trading, and ends up running from hit men and the cops.

▪ FBI profiler Evelyn Bain loses her best friend to an “unsolved abduction” in “Vanished” by Elizabeth Heiter (Mira, $8, 400 pages). When a similar abduction occurs years later, Evelyn travels to a small town in South Carolina to find the Nursery Rhyme Killer – before he finds her.

Author appearances

▪ Lynn Carthage for “Haunted: The Arnaud Legacy,” 6:30 p.m. March 6 at Face In a Book, 4359 Town Center Blvd., El Dorado Hills, (916) 941-9401.

▪ Philip Pezzaglia for “True Tales of the Sacramento Delta,” 7 p.m. March 12 at Time Tested Books, 1114 21st St., Sacramento, (916) 447-5696. Also: Daniel Arnold for “Snowblind: Tales of Alpine Obsession,” 7 p.m. March 19.

▪ Ken Mercurio for “Head Over Wheels,” 7:30 p.m. March 13 at Avid Reader, 617 Second St., Davis, (530) 758-4040; and 2 p.m. March 14 at Avid Reader at the Tower, 1600 Broadway, Sacramento, (916) 441-4400.

▪ Jack Parker for “The Valley of Tranquility” and his four-title “Adventure” series, 1 p.m. March 14 at Barnes & Noble, 1256 Galleria Blvd., Roseville, (916) 788-4320.

Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128. Follow him on Twitter @apierleonisacbe.


If you have information on author appearances or other book-related special events, email it to at least two weeks before the event. To read the online calendar, go to Questions? Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128.

Garth Stein will read from “A Sudden Light,” host a discussion and sign books at 7:30 p.m. March 7 at Avid Reader, , 617 Second St., Davis; (530) 758-4040.