The first book in thirteen years by the acclaimed author of Lilith and A Sea Change, Southern Light is a major American novel, a haunting love story that has the lyrical density and symbolic resonance of a great poem.
Southern Light tells the story of Dr. Carl Ransome, a lonely and disillusioned man who, in retirement, has found a haven on a small island in Chesapeake Bay. Here he encounters the tormented sightless woman Sylvie, and together they are drawn into a web of confession and self-disclosure. Ransome’s story, as it pours from him after a lifetime of suppression, reveals a man whose marriage, whose fatherhood, whose lifelong service to the poor and ill have all been traduced and meaningless; a man whose ultimate moral abdication has involved the death of a child. Sylvie’s confessions in turn, disclose an echoing pattern of family tragedy, climaxed by her sense of moral complicity in the death of her lover.
As these two reminiscences unfold and intertwine, we meet those men and women who have played a central role in Carl’s and Sylvie’s tragedies. Molly, Carl’s wife of thirty-five years, whose love for Carl began in a spark of pain and need, before subsiding into years of routine robbed of all meaning; Ron, Sylvie’s too-devoted lover, and Nils, the man who stirs in her frightening depths of passion and submission; and, perhaps most crucial of all, Carl’s patient Walter Lubby—a black man dying of syphilis, whose dignity and terrible faith invoke the most compelling and mysterious relationship of the doctors life.
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