LIGHT FROM A DISTANT STAR by Mary McGarry Morris
“Because this was the part she couldn’t tell anyone, except her mother. And then, not all of it, not right away. She still thinks it came from knowing too much, more than she understood or could accept. She needed her world to be safe, and if bad things happened, she had to work them out first in her head, then only later, inside, deep, deeper than she could ever have imagined.”
Review by Bonnie Brody (OCT 27, 2011)
Nellie Peck is thirteen years old going on forty. She is wise, intelligent and impulsive. Despite her precociousness, however, she is still a child. She lives with her parents and two siblings, Ruth and Henry; Ruth is a half-sister from a relationship that her mother had in high school. The Pecks are struggling financially. Nellie’s mother works as a hair dresser and Nellie’s father owns a hardware store that is slowly going under. Her father’s passion is his writing – he is writing a tome about the history of their town, Springvale. His goal is to get it self-published so that it can be read by a wide audience.
To enhance their income, the Pecks rent out an apartment attached to their home. Nellie loves to listen in to conversations in the apartment through the bathroom wall. Their latest tenant is Dolly Bedalia, an exotic dancer, aka a stripper. Nellie likes her and feels that Dolly actually listens to her. Her brother Henry has built a treehouse and from the treehouse Nellie and Henry can see into their neighbor’s living room and also view the comings and goings from Dolly’s apartment.
Ruth is obsessed with finding her real father who moved to Australia during high school. She has written multiple letters to him. When a return letter finally comes, Nellie absconds with it and hides it from Ruth which sets off a chain of events that leads to Nellie feeling like an outcast from her family.
Nellie is in that in-between age, not yet in adolescence but on the cusp of it. A wild child, Bucky Saltonstall, likes Nellie and tries to involve her in his illegal and wild schemes. One of them is stealing bicycles and then selling them. Bucky is also a bully and can turn on anyone at the drop of a hat. He is living with his grandparents because his parents can’t handle him.
Charlie is Nellie’s grandfather. He is the proprietor of the local junkyard. He is cold and mean, not at all what one thinks of as grandfatherly. Recently, he hired a helper named Max Devaney. Max has a history that includes being in jail and he is a registered sex offender for having sex with an underaged girl when he was a young man. He has a dog named Boone. Nellie really likes him and his dog. She dreams of going fishing with Charlie and Max but they only invite her along one time. Nellie considers Max to be a hero. There was an instance when Henry was attacked by a neighbor’s dog and Max came to the rescue, killing the offending dog violently. Henry ended up with a considerable number of stitches in his arm.
Jessica Cooper is Nellie’s annoying friend. She pursues Nellie like white on snow. Nellie does not like her because Jessica has very weird thoughts about killing people, hating her mother, and is generally mean and unfeeling. She calls Nellie all the time and Nellie doesn’t know how to get her off her back.
So far, the above events are just the daily workings of a small town and a small town girl. However, Dolly gets murdered and the only one there, the only witness to who might be the murderer, is Nellie. She was in the basement with Max while Max was fixing the hot water tank and they needed to get into Dolly’s apartment. The door of the apartment was unlocked and when they get in, Dolly is dead. Nellie saw another man coming out of Dolly’s apartment but has said nothing about it so Max is tried for the murder. Nellie is in a real fix – she feels like she can’t tell anyone about who she saw but she doesn’t want Max to go to jail for a murder she doesn’t believe he committed. Nellie also remembers hearing some thumps and bumps coming from the apartment earlier that same afternoon.
Most of the novel focuses on Nellie’s dilemmas about the murder, her family and growing up. She is the primary witness at the trial and she often thinks about Mark Twain’s quote that moral courage is more important than physical courage. Will Nellie have the moral courage to speak up? If so, what will be the consequences to those involved?
Light From A Distant Star is not one of Mary McGarry Morris’s stronger novels. I’m a real fan of hers and have read everything she’s written. I especially love Vanished and Fiona Range. This novel includes some of the same types of characters for which she is known – the unlikable outcasts that just can’t seem to make it in the regular ways of life. However, in her previous books, the characters were so well-executed and brought to life that the reader feels empathy for them. I felt little or no empathy for the characters in this book. They were fleshed out, but not to the point where I cared all that much. The writing is excellent, just what I’d expect from Morris, but ultimately, it does not come up to her best work.
Movies made from books:
October 26, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: Mary McGarry Morris, Morality, Murder Mystery, Small Town · Posted in: Contemporary, Family Matters
Release date: 06/01/1988