(This review is from a now defunct website I previously published, but I found myself thinking about this book recently, and thought I’d resurrect the review in order to let older readers in on this gem.)
Deliberately crafted and deliciously written, A Certain Slant of Light, by Laura Whitcomb offers a of sensual exploration and emotional complexity that stands out for its literary quality and grace, although who it’s intended audience is may confuse you. The story follows Helen, a spirit, or being of light, of uncertain age who spends 130 years tying herelf to the living. By doing so she is able to continue her tenuos hold on her memories and life as one of the quick. When she encounters James, another being of light who has managed to take over the body of a living boy, she is overjoyed to find someone with whom she can communicate, and begins a relationship that quickly changes her “life.” When she is seduced into inhabiting the empty shell of a human girl, the love affair that follows seems mostly about reveling in her new found body and the exploration of the senses. The two formerly light spirits commandeer the bodies of teenagers whose lives seem destined to end sooner rather than later, but the two spirits seem determined to “live” again. When James abruptly discovers the reason for his long banishment from heaven. Helen is left to struggle to uncover her own reason for exile.
Although the lives of the people whose bodies they take over seem almost too complex and dreary to believe, Whitcomb does manage to tie their tragedies into the plot by forcing the body “snatchers” to live within the complex parameters of their hosts, and in this way the story literally allows both the characters, and the reader, to live within another’s skin
Although Helen finally comes to terms with the reason for her own private hell, though stunningly painted, feels too laden with adult knowing (she has lived for over 130 years, after all) for it to have any real impact on a young reader. Although I did enjoy a cathartic cry at the grand reveal at the end, it is not likely to be read by many of the in tended audience with the same emotional impact. However, the graphic sex scenes and genuine voices of the characters will certainly keep them reading.
The stark contrast between the beautiful prose and the modern day language of the spirit’s two young hosts, if nothing else, casts an uncomplimentary spotlight on the crassness of modern culture.
Recommend this to your older, more literary-minded readers and they will thank you.
Violence – V
Sex – SS
Questionable Behavior – ?? (expect discussions of rebelliousness, parental neglect, drugs and suicide.)