The All-Night Sun (Penguin Random House, 2021) illuminates the aftermath of the worst personal tragedy many would dare to imagine—losing both parents in the jagged age between childhood and adulthood, eighteen. Much of the novel bears the burden of coloring in grief which is known for its invisibility. Author Diane Zinna completes this heavy mission with lyrical mastery. Grief is named “homesickness,” the absence of roots, an ever-present wrinkled black dress, “waiting,” “a weight belt,” the sensation of still-falling, of feeling for the bottom of “a sea with no floor,” “a hot pipe” stabbed in the chest, a chalkboard necklace with the word “pain.” Readers get the impression of floating, reaching for a definition that does not exist and, therefore, must be imagined. Zinna’s imagination is a rare space where the invisible becomes kaleidoscopic.
The novel’s protagonist, Lauren Cress, considers herself inwardly trapped at the age her parents died, while outwardly aging into a respected adult. So, when, as a professor for international college students, Lauren encounters effervescent, eighteen-year-old student Siri, she yields herself to Siri’s magnetism. Like Lauren, Siri has suffered the death of both her mother and father. Quickly, the two discover that the space commandeered by their ghosts presses their lives—inextricably, inevitably—together.
When Siri must return to Sweden for summer break, she convinces Lauren to accompany her with the promise of Midsommar, a night where the sun does not set. Siri uses lush, persuasive language: “everything would be just thawing out.” The juxtaposition of verdancy with desolation throughout the text reminds readers that the characters always walk the tightrope of grief. Solid ground is rarely ever underfoot.
In Sweden, Lauren anticipates the fulfillment of Siri’s promise—the reclamation of not only warmth but youth, a life she never lived. Lauren chronicles her early days in Sweden with childlike wonder: “I remember our three days in Stockholm as sticky and sweet, maybe because we got ice creams from vendors on three different corners…our talks there, they can sometimes feel like sun in my eyes.” The images Zinna selects are visceral, inviting.
But Sweden has its own share of ghosts and monsters, some of them borrowed from Lauren’s past. Into the narrative, Zinna expertly weaves fable, myth, magic, and horror. Näcken, luring Swedish water spirits, threaten to drown characters or shapeshift into their desires. Repeatedly, Lauren reflects on Ray Bradbury’s science fiction story “All Summer in A Day” –an alternate reality where the sun is only visible to humans for one hour every seven years. The stories expose Lauren’s all-consuming, blinding fear of missing the light.
By attempting to be reborn in another’s life, Lauren finds that invention can be as sharp as truth. The antagonists and protagonists of the novel morph as often as the creatures of Swedish mythology, sometimes even materializing in the mirror.
The All-Night Sun is a mesmerizing fusion of serenade, spell, and elegy—a story somehow spectral and splendorous. Through its pages, Zinna proves herself capable of alchemy.
Marah Hoffman is a senior double major in English and creative writing at Lebanon Valley College in rural Pennsylvania. Within her campus’s lively literary community, she is a writing tutor, mentor for prospective and new students, co-poetry editor for their literary magazine, and president of her college’s International English Honors Society chapter. Marah enjoys reading classic and contemporary literature. She has written poetry since she was twelve but has lately found herself wandering the realm of creative nonfiction, particularly personal essays. Besides being a bookworm, Marah is an avid runner. She is a member of LVC’s cross country and track teams. When Marah graduates, she hopes to find a position that allows her to continue pursuing her passion for books.
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