No spoilers here, so read on!
There are novels you love because they're windows to another world. There are novels you love because they teach you how to love. And there are novels you love because you see yourself in the story and the author seems to speak the language of your heart. For me, The Sunlit Night by Rebecca Dinerstein did all of those things.
First, the synopsis from Goodreads:
In the beautiful, barren landscape of the Far North, under the ever-present midnight sun, Frances and Yasha are surprised to find refuge in each other. Their lives have been upended--Frances has fled heartbreak and claustrophobic Manhattan for an isolated artist colony; Yasha arrives from Brooklyn to fulfill his beloved father's last wish: to be buried “at the top of the world.” They have come to learn how to be alone.
But in Lofoten, an archipelago of six tiny islands in the Norwegian Sea, ninety-five miles north of the Arctic Circle, they form a bond that fortifies them against the turmoil of their distant homes, offering solace amidst great uncertainty. With nimble and sure-footed prose, Dinerstein reveals that no matter how far we travel to claim our own territory, it is ultimately love that gives us our place in the world.
I have to say, Rebecca Dinerstein is a master of the "show, don't tell" principle of creative writing. It's rare that a novel's opening paragraph renders me so impressed that I stop what I'm doing to read it aloud to others, yet that's exactly what I did. And the opening paragraph wasn't the only passage that I couldn't help reading aloud. My boyfriend is, thankfully, patient in addition to being a book nerd.
I've never really understood why calling a novel "lyrical" is en vogue right now (what does that even MEAN?), but if I had to name lyrical novels, I'd say The Sunlit Night is right up there with Everything is Illuminated, The History of Love, and A Partial History of Lost Causes. Those are three of my favorite books of all time, so that's quite a compliment coming from me. To me, an impressive, truly well-written--"lyrical," if you will--novel contains an average person in a unique, unexpected setting that is made even more special because things are described in a way that welds everyday words together in uncommon strings to make poetry. But I'm not talking about the kind of poetry that talks over your head. I'm talking about poetry of the easily understandable variety; the kind that lends itself more to being understood than to fostering ambiguity.
The two main characters, Frances and Yasha, are brought together in the most faraway place and are drawn to one another because they share the feeling of not having a place where they belong. When Frances's sister gets married and their parents get divorced, she will return to New York without a home to go to. When Yasha's father dies, thereby abdicating the bakery he owned and their upstairs apartment, Yasha is afraid to return to New York because the life he has known throughout his adolescence no longer exists. Each of their senses of what home is has been destroyed and they have no idea what they should do next to have a stable future. They're both homeless in the most profound way--physically and emotionally.
As someone whose job was taken away with the close of the company the same week I graduated college and whose parents didn't want her to move back home (they thought a college degree would guarantee me a six-figure income), I can totally relate to the feeling of having an uncertain future and having no home to go to. Yet I can also relate to the idea of finding refuge in an unlikely partner and dating that person because it just feels good to be understood. Yasha is four years younger than Frances--he's 18 and she's 22--and, let's be honest, probably not the guy she would seek out to date. However, circumstantial happenings can be the glue that bonds most tightly.
I can furthermore relate to the notion of choosing the family you want and not feeling bound to someone you despise just because you share a bloodline. Yasha's mother abandoned him for 10 years then suddenly wanted to be a part of his life. Some readers might think him being judgmental of her and repulsed by her is cold-hearted, but when you've been abandoned by a parent yourself (ahem, biological father), you learn that sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to let the rotting bridges burn and not look back.
As Frances and Yasha learn how to be alone, they consequently learn how to love more deeply. Because until you know how to be alone, you can't be with someone else in a lasting way. As the relationships of their family crumble, Frances and Yasha draw strength from the displays of clumsy affection and the impermanence of the life we know. The midnight sun sheds light on more than their patch of earth.
My only complaint is that I wish the book was longer.