Back in April, John Self at Asylum reviewed David Park’s Swallowing the Sun. His review made the book sound so good that I just couldn’t resist entering his giveaway of the book, and I was lucky enough to get a copy. This book, which is part family drama, part suspense tale, is every bit as good a read as John’s review led me to expect.
Set in Belfast, after the Troubles, Swallowing the Sun tells the story of Martin Waring and his family. Martin grew up in an abusive home and is now trying to put his past behind him. Today, his main worries have to do with growing apart from his intellectually gifted daughter Rachel and watching his son Tom escape into a world of video games and overeating. Martin watches these developments, not knowing how to react, in part, perhaps, because as a boy he learned to respond to challenges with violence, and he knows that’s not the right thing to do. So he becomes an observer of his own life, just as he is an observer in his work as a museum guard. He’s a passive man, because passivity is the only way he knows to avoid hurting others.
Martin is the main focus of this family drama, but Park does allow us to peek into the minds of his wife and children as well. We learn, for instance, that Rachel senses his presence when he stands outside her open bedroom door watching her work, and she wishes he would come in and talk with her. Using third-person narration, Park manages these shifts from one mind to another very well. He takes their mundane thoughts and worries seriously, and rightly so, because these worries are not mundane at all to those who are experiencing them.
About one-third of the way into the book, however, an event occurs that knocks Martin and his family out of its mundane existence and into a world of pain that no one should ever have to experience. It’s a shock to the family system, and to the reader, just as it would be in life. And now, Martin feels he must do something. Others’ responses are inadequate, so Martin chooses to act in the only way he knows how. And the question becomes, How far will he go?
This is the type of book that, in the hands of a lesser author, could easily become overly sentimental or melodramatic. But Park does not ramp up the emotion beyond what is warranted by the situation. He lets the characters’ thoughts and actions, irrational as they sometimes are, tell the story, without resorting to giving pat answers for what they do. It’s excellent writing, and I must agree with other reviewers that Park deserves to be more widely known and read.