Soon the Light Will Be Perfect by Dave Patterson

This sensitive debut novel about everything that can go wrong as one grows up will touch any reader who remembers being 12 and beset by the world.

Dave Patterson’s first novel, Soon the Light Will Be Perfect, is a rough-edged coming-of-age story. Set in a poverty-stricken Vermont community at the beginning of “the desert war,” it spotlights a family in crisis within a town in despair.

The narrator is a 12-year-old boy. Along with his older brother, father and mother, he remains nameless, although more peripheral characters have proper names. As the story opens, the family has recently moved out of the trailer park–an important social step up–and they have given away their old kitchen table in an act of charity. The father is supposed to be building a new one, but this project serves as a metaphor for larger troubles. Getting the new kitchen table finished and perfect will prove daunting. In the first chapters, the family’s troubles ratchet rapidly from an overpopulation of pet cats to the mother’s cancer diagnosis.

The 15-year-old brother gets a girlfriend and distances himself from the narrator, although the boys still smoke weed together in the garage, where the kitchen-table project progresses slowly. This is a devout Catholic family, and guilt plagues the young narrator, whose burgeoning sexual interests, for example, give him trouble. Struggles with faith are central to the book. The father’s work in a weapons factory seems secured by the advent of war, a fact that the narrator has trouble reconciling with Christian teachings. His mother’s suffering at the hands of cancer, chemotherapy and radiation seems senseless. He remains committed to religion, despite these conflicts and his obsession with women’s underwear. A new girl his own age from the trailer park provides further conflicts between what he feels and what he thinks he ought to feel.

While Patterson’s gift for description brings beauty to this novel, the tone is bleak. The father labors helplessly: “In the garage the saw screams in the ceremony of my father’s self-destruction.” The sick mother delivers food to those needier than herself but also covers up a small crime, as her younger son sneaks cigarettes and self-flagellates. Amid the narrator’s crisis of faith, even the priest turns away from church. Certain plot turns and characterizations may tend toward cliché, but Patterson’s striking writing and attention to detail rescue his book from that realm. To put it another way, clichés are formed from the broadest truths of life, and Patterson aims to approach those overarching truths–perhaps why his protagonists go unnamed.

Soon the Light Will Be Perfect is an ambitious work about what it is to be young and facing problems that challenge the most capable adult. At its end, much remains unresolved, just as in life, but readers will recognize just how true that ending rings.


This review originally ran in the March 22, 2019 issue of Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade. To subscribe, click here.


Rating: 6 junked cars.

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