Dismantle the Sun by Jim Snowden is an intriguing book set in the snow covered Upper Michigan. The core story arc is built around a couple of teachers, Hal and Jodie, during the final days of their marriage. Right from the start, the author delves into Hal's private thoughts who is alone in the house while his wife, Jodie, lies in a hospital bed fighting a losing battle with cancer. Told in a third-person narrative, the story follows not only Hal's struggle to reconcile with his wife's imminent death, but also several side stories witch run parallel with the core story - Hal's relationship with his mother-in-law, Margaret; Hal's struggle at work; Hal's difficult relationship with his father, Reverend Nickerson, who abandoned him and his mother when Hal was a child; and Hal's love affair with one of his students, Ruth. All of the aforementioned stories affect Hal in some way, altering the core arc as the book progresses. However, the author has also cleverly woven in day-to-day encounters and interactions with unrelated characters, all of which enhance the reader's understanding of Hal's personality and his dilemmas.
The book consists of two parts, which I will address separately.
In the first part, Mr. Snowden does a good job setting the general tone of the novel and letting the reader know who the players are. Here, the writing is concise and to the point. From the opening lines on, the reader learns about Hal, Jodie, and their house, which figures prominently in the first few chapters. Both Hal and Jodie are fully developed characters, and the reader is not only offered a glimpse to their individual and joint past, but also their quirks, fears, and general stance on life. With the introduction of Jodie's mother, Margaret, and Hal's father, Reverend Nickerson, the entire relationship is laid bare in front of the reader to ponder.
A line here has caught my attention more than others: "His mother had always told him that those who disposed of life found life disposing of them a lot sooner than they thought." Aside from being a very beautiful line on its own, it offers yet another perspective on Hal's personality. Raised in a deeply religious household, he, himself is an atheist. In the beginning, one could assume that Hal is pretty much set in his ways and no longer struggling, but as the story progresses, the impact his religious upbringing had on his life becomes clearer. Not only because Hal despises his father, but also because he disregard and fights any mention of spirituality, even trying to counter religious arguments with scientific ones.
As the complicated drama unfolds (Jodie dying in a hospital but refusing to come home, Margaret staying with Hal but refusing to accept the idea that her daughter is dying, and Hal struggling with the concept of future without Jodie, yet ready to let go off the present), another arc is introduced into the story. Ruth, a 17-years old student who was home-schooled by her pastor father, starts attending Hal's classes. What more, Ruth's father takes the liberty to inform Hal's father of Jodie's dying, which brings the Reverend Nickerson on to the scene.
While the characters are well developed and their struggle realistic, the first part of the book left me lukewarm. Despite all the good things the novel (up to this point) has going on for it, I felt as an observer separated by a glass wall - seeing all yet without any real attachment to any of the characters.
In the second part, the story takes a turn when Hal and Ruth enter into a relationship. The second interesting arc in this part has to do with Hal's stepmother, the woman Reverend Nickerson chose over Hal's mother. This is obviously a contentious character in Hal's life, and his actions towards her are well crafted. Yet, despite having more potential for a real emotional conflict, the second part of the book reduced the story's impact for me. I will not divulge the storyline or the ending here so as not to spoil it for anyone.
So why this change in my attitude towards this novel? I'll give you a simple answer - Hal. Throughout the first part, I was constantly reminded of Hal's sophistication and his maturity. However, in part two I perceive Hal as an immature individual, which diminishes the impact of part one for me. While Hal's relationship with Ruth is understandable and even acceptable to me, the way he acts and speaks seems rather unreasonable given the prior 160 pages. I understand that this is a fictional story and that, as a reader, the author asks of me a certain suspension of disbelief. Personally, I did not find the events that unfolded in part two believable enough to sustain this suspension of disbelief, be it due to a few factual discrepancies or Hal's action.
Overall, Dismantle the Sun is a good novel. Since the issues tackled in this work are so polarizing, I can assume that some readers will enjoy this more than I did and will likely be absorbed by the story and not pay any attention to the things that bothered me. Personally, I'm a sucker for realism; raw realism accentuated by a heart-wrenching story. My favorite books explore the dark side of humanity, and are often without redemption. That's not Dismantle the Sun. Nonetheless, Dismantle the Sun is a well-written novel about struggle many readers can relate to.