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Before We Sleep

by Jeffrey Lent

Before We Sleep by Jeffrey Lent X
Before We Sleep by Jeffrey Lent
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  • Published:
    May 2017, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Zoë Fairtlough
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About this Book

Book Summary

The sweeping, intergenerational story of a Vermont family, from WWII to the dawning of the '60s - the most magisterial and moving novel of acclaimed author Jeffrey Lent's career.

Katey Snow, seventeen, slips the pickup into neutral and rolls silently out of the driveway of her Vermont home, her parents, Oliver and Ruth, still asleep. She isn't so much running away as on a journey of discovery. She carries with her a packet of letters addressed to her mother from an old army buddy of her father's. She has only recently been told that Oliver, who she adores more than anyone, isn't her biological father. She hopes the letter's sender will have answers to her many questions.

Before We Sleep moves gracefully between Katey's perspective on the road and her mother, Ruth's. Through Ruth's recollections, we learn of her courtship with Oliver, their marriage on the eve of war, and his return as a changed man. Oliver had always been a bit dreamy, but became more remote, finding solace most of all in repairing fiddles. There were adjustments, accommodations, sacrifices - but the family went on to find its own rhythms, satisfactions, and happiness. Now Katey's journey may rearrange the Snows' story.

Set in a lovingly realized Vermont setting, tracking the changes that come with the turning of the seasons - and decades - and signaling the dawning of a new freedom as Katey moves out into a world in flux, Before We Sleep is a novel about family, about family secrets, and about the love that holds families together. It is also about the Greatest Generation as it moves into the very different era of the 1960s, and about the trauma of war that so profoundly weighed on both generations. It is Jeffrey Lent's most accomplished novel.

Excerpt
Before We Sleep

In her mind she was already gone and had been some weeks, months even. Half past midnight in the second week of June she slipped from her bed and pulled on jeans and a blouse and carrying her tennis shoes went soundless into the dark hall past her mother's bedroom and across from that the room where her father slept those same months. Down the stairs easing over the one third from the bottom, a tight grip on the rail as she went, on through the kitchen where the screened windows were open to the night air. The clump of lilacs a shadow against one side of the entryway, the last blooms infusing the room. She unhooked the screen door and slowly opened it, the rusty spring groaning a gentle scrape, then let the door settle back into place.

She went into the old carriage barn that had long ago been altered to a garage for winter parking although only her mother's car was there now and along to the stack of old apple crates where she lifted out her suitcase ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About this book
Katey Snow, age seventeen, slips out of her house and into the night. She carries a bundle of letters between her mother, Ruth, and an old army friend of her father's. Katey has just learned that Oliver, whom she adores, is not her biological father. With this knowledge she takes off, searching for the man from the letters, who just might have some answers for her.

In Before We Sleep, master storyteller Jeffrey Lent tells the intertwining stories of Katey and Ruth. As Katey traverses the country, we learn of Ruth's life with Oliver: courtship, marriage, separation due to war , reconciliation. When Oliver returns, Ru th finds a changed man, along ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

While much of Lent's writing is rich with insights about the human condition, those who prefer a more fast-paced read may find this detailed examination of daily living less than a page-turner. Parts of the book might have benefited from a stiff edit to bring out the real nuggets of the story. But for those who do enjoy a gentle, slow amble through a character's psyche, Before We Sleep is perfect for cuddling up to under a blanket, speaking the best sentences out loud, savoring them a few sips at a time...continued

Full Review (595 words).

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(Reviewed by Zoë Fairtlough).

Media Reviews

Booklist
In third-person, stream-of-consciousness prose, he combines exacting descriptions of the everyday with a realism that alternates between illuminating and mundane ... The Vermont setting is well realized ... Lent's characterization rings true.

Kirkus Reviews
Beautifully written and powerfully compassionate: more fine work from a modern master.

Library Journal
Elegiac. ... Luxurious and deliberate. ... For admirers of Emma Cline's The Girls, here is a less sensational but worthy companion.

Publishers Weekly
Lent's fine prose depicts the touching physical and emotional journeys of the Snow family against a backdrop of the magical New England landscape.

Author Blurb Howard Frank Mosher, author of A Stranger In The Kingdom
Unfailingly entertaining, profound, and elegantly crafted and written, Before We Sleep is Lent's most majestic novel to date, one of the finest books ever to come out of rural America.

Author Blurb Ron Rash, author of the New York Times bestseller, Serena
In an era where many writers spend as much time on self-promotion as on their craft, Jeffrey Lent has quietly created some of the finest novels of our new century. This beautifully written novel depicts familial and generational conflicts without accusation or condescension, becoming a profound depiction of mid-twentieth-century America.

Author Blurb Tim Gautreaux author of Signals: New and Selected Stories
In Before We Sleep, Jeffrey Lent has written a beautifully crafted family saga, his rolling sentences detailed and precise, his characterizations full and memorable. Sentence by sentence rural New England comes alive, and his language draws you in like a clear stream in summer.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Folk and Bluegrass Music

In Before We Sleep, Oliver, a World War II veteran, repairs fiddles for others to play folk and bluegrass tunes.

Fiddles and violins are essentially the same instrument (for more about this, read the 'Beyond the Book' for Black River), but the music that they produce can be classified into different categories. According to Strings magazine "violin is for classical and jazz [music] while fiddle is for folk, country and bluegrass." To my untrained ear, folk, country and bluegrass sound pretty similar. What is the difference?

Country music is the umbrella genre under which folk and bluegrass fall, although some argue that country and folk music carry on along parallel tracks. Music Genres List calls country music "a federation of ...

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