Updated: Nov 29, 2022
by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)
Julia Glass's Vigil Harbor (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
Thanks to partners NetGalley, Knopf Doubleday, and Pantheon Books for the digital ARC of Julia Glass’s Vigil Harbor in exchange for an honest review. The book is available for purchase.
I’d read only one of Julia Glass’s prior novels—her debut Three Junes, winner of the National Book Award—when I requested an advance copy of Vigil Harbor. I was drawn in by the synopsis, focused on an isolated community in the midst of the consequences of climate change. Honestly, I didn’t give thought to much else, to plot or writing or even characters, but all of those facets of this novel exceeded my expectations.
Vigil Harbor moves through a large cast of characters, shifting from one perspective to the next, as they consider the elements of their past that have led them to their current identities as individuals and as a community.
Each character is precisely drawn as a unique individual inextricably woven into the lives of the others. Brecht, who dropped out of college after witnessing a horrific explosion in New York, lives with his best friend Noam in the home of Brecht’s mother and stepfather, Austin. Austin, an architect, works both to comfort his family and to wrestle with a tragic loss from his past. Mike is reeling from the end of his marriage. The list of characters spools out from there, all woven together by their mutual past and by a desire to escape something outside of Vigil Harbor.
Tragedy pervades their stories, but so does hope, and there’s a whimsy, a touch of myth and story, that pushes this book out of the realm of the typical. This near-future book is rooted in the way that climate change plagues society through disasters both natural and man-made, and watching the way those disasters alternately push people apart and together again is a captivating process. I absolutely could not stop reading this book, which blends beautiful writing, compelling characters, and a propulsive plot. It’s a masterful work of fiction.
Note: I didn't listen to the audiobook, but it features a full cast of narrators, which would be perfect for this novel!
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