Illumination Night - Alice Hoffman

Beginning on the night of the Grand Illumination, a festival of lanterns held each summer on Martha’s Vineyard, this novel is a modern chronicle of a marriage and a bittersweet exploration of an extraordinary passion. Illumination Night follows the lives of a young blond giant who is as beautiful as he is frightening; an old woman at the end of her life whose last mission is to save her granddaughter’s soul; a family torn apart by a wife’s fears and a husband’s unrealized desiresand the high school girl who comes to Martha’s Vineyard against her will, who steals husbands and cars, and who will bring everyone together in a web of yearning, sin, and ultimate redemption.





Andre, his wife Vonny and their nearly 5 year old son, Simon, are living on Martha's Vineyard in a fixer-upper home. Vonny makes & sells pottery while Andre is focusing on building his antique motorcycle restoration business. They love their community, particularly when Illumination Night comes around. The Festival of Grand Illumination, a festival of lanterns, is held on the island every year. This story focuses on one eventful year that brings a ton of drama and challenges for Andre & Vonny to navigate through.


When she closed her eyes and arched her back, Andre felt his skin grow hot and his chest constrict. He fell in love with the way she closed her eyes long before he fell in love with her. 




It all starts with their elderly, nearly blind, next door neighbor Elizabeth Renny taking a serious tumble that requires her to be on crutches for a lengthy time. Elizabeth's teenage granddaughter, Jody, comes to town to stay with Elizabeth as she heals.


Though she had not been to the Grand Illumination for years, Elizabeth Renny remembers that the first time she went she wore a pale pink skirt, a blouse with a wide collar, small gold earrings. Although she was already married, she thinks she may have fallen in love with her husband on Illumination Night. Stars had been plucked out of the sky and set into lanterns. She broke the heel of one of her shoes and walked down Trinity Avenue barefoot. 


Each day, hormonal teen Jody observes good looking Andre going about his business in his garage and quickly begins to develop quite the unhealthy obsession over him. Andre notices Jody's fascination with him and mentally notes that had her fixation started just a few months earlier, he and Vonny would have had a good laugh over it. But Jody's arrival now falls at a tough time in Andre & Vonny's marriage. They're trying to push through a mountain of financial stress as well as just the general mix of stress and fears that come with trying to build a new business. They also have heavy concerns over their son's health issues. With his mind clouded with all this, Andre finds it kind of flattering to be the object of a teenager's fantasy and almost feels tempted to indulge in her whims. So much of the story builds on the "will he or won't he?" question. 


As Jody's obsession with Andre grew, I honestly thought this story was going to go the way of movies like Poison Ivy or The Hand That Rocks The Cradle. But Hoffman actually crafts a much more layered story than that. With this cast of characters, she weaves in a variety of issues, complicated pasts, mental chains, motivations, etc. that I found shifted around my sympathies and judgments. With this story I was reminded that an individual's reasons for being the way they are can run so much deeper than we tend to think of through surface impressions.


Simon wonders what sort of potion he could prepare to make his parents happy. If he thinks about his parents too long he will begin to believe that what happened to them is his fault. His parents act as though they were strangers. When Simon has a tantrum, they don't yell at him, they simply look tired and give in. Is it his fault that his mother cries as she cooks dinner? Is there some mistake he has made that had driven his father away?

* {Five years old and already Andre & Vonny's son

is having these kinds of thoughts!}




The character story I loved the most was that of Eddie aka The Giant because of his gigantism. His story alternately warmed my heart or triggered incredibly empathy for the isolation society forces him into. I closed this book wishing for a continuation book just for his character, wanting to know how he came through that last trial. 


This was the first of Alice Hoffman's works I've picked up so far (it was originally written in 1987) and it took no time at all for me to get sucked into Hoffman's style of storytelling. I found myself pulled to the characters even when there was little to no action, Hoffman just made them that interesting! I have a few more of her works on my shelves and look forward to getting to more of her bibliography in the near future :-)