“There was so much beauty in our life together.
Maybe that’s where I should start.”
Lucy Carter, Prologue
the light we lost
I didn’t go to Columbia. For undergrad, I went elsewhere in New York, and although I got in to Columbia for my master’s, I headed north to Boston instead.
In this sense, I’m dissimilar to Jill Santopolo, author of the light we lost.
I also wasn’t in NYC on 9/11. I remember exactly what I was doing that morning. I was taking a middle-school American history test in North Carolina.
In that sense, I’m also not like Santopolo’s main character, Lucy, who was in college at Columbia on that fateful day.
But I found myself, in ways that weren’t always comfortable, while reading the light we lost.
I have experienced love. I have experienced loss. I have struggled to understand how the universe moves, and whether or not we have any real say in what happens in our lives. I have moved, I have changed direction, and at times I’ve dug my heels in when I should have changed or moved but didn’t. I’ve also dealt with the blessings and consequences of these decisions. These are the ways I found myself in Santopolo’s work.
I should mention that I don’t read romance novels. Not normally. My life has — for better and for worse — enough real drama to last a lifetime. But I knew I had to read this one. So I went to the store, purchased it, and prepared to cry. And then I did.
I cried for Lucy and Darren and Gabe. I cried for their families and friends. I cried for New York. And yeah, I cried for me, too. I cried tears that I’d probably been needing to cry for years. And that was the best gift I could have given myself. The permission to feel big, scary feelings, about big, scary things.
A book that elicits that level of feeling, and builds a world where that feels both safe and real, transcends genre categorization. It is, quite simply, a great book. And because it is a great book, I’m here saying: go ahead, meet love and grief between the covers of the light we lost. Realize that the beauty of Santopolo’s work is in how she’s captured raw and complex things in a way that makes us less afraid to look them dead-on. Maybe even agree that her work defies the reductive label “romance novel.” And then try not to act surprised when you hear that she transcends literary categorization in other, surprising ways.
North by North Carolinian
If you’re interested in Santopolo’s thoughts on the light we lost, I’d start with:
This blog post, by Santopolo, for Penguin Random House Audio.
This interview for Entertainment Weekly.
This interview for Washington Independent Review of Books.
Full concept and content by Ryan Vale McGonigle