Photo: Philip Friedman/Studio D
The Light Between Oceans
There's something irresistible about a morally complex story that makes you root for all its flawed characters, even when they're at odds with one another. The Light Between Oceans (Scribner), M.L. Stedman's seductive debut, is just that sort of book. And it comes with a bonus: a high-concept plot that keeps you riveted from the first page. Tom Sherbourne is the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, a remote island off the western coast of Australia. Tom is a WWI vet whose battlefield experience has left him righteous; his bride, Isabel, is brave and modern, having forgone the comforts of the mainland to join her beloved. Life is good for the Sherbournes, except for one thing: Isabel has had two miscarriages and despairs at the thought of remaining childless. Suddenly, a boat washes onshore; in it are an infant and a dead man. Isabel is desperate to keep the child, and Tom, despite his misgivings, cannot bring himself to ruin his wife's dream by reporting what happened. That disaster will ensue is obvious, but Stedman layers her story with three-dimensional characters and twists that are at once surprising and inevitable. When all is finally revealed, and many good people's lives are destroyed, Tom ruminates on the nature of love, honor, and responsibility. "There are still more days to travel in this life," he thinks. And everyone "who makes the journey has been shaped by every day and every person along the way. Scars are just another kind of memory."
— Sara Nelson