Having a baby has divided the lives of John and Veronica into before and after in The Sunshine When She’s Gone, a first novel by short story writer Thea Goodman. Six months after the difficult birth, baby Clara still hasn’t slept through the night. Exhausted, John and Veronica go to work, care for the baby, and count up hours of sleep they got or didn’t get. Any conversation that starts up between the two fatigued 30-something parents turns quickly into recrimination. Romance and spontaneity has been replaced by sniping and the daily routine. John blames Veronica’s hormones; Veronica accuses John of not understanding how tired she is.
At the start of the story, which takes place over the course of one weekend, John spent a sleepless Thursday night waiting for the baby to cry out, realizing with amazement, early next morning, that she hadn’t woken up. Impulsively, John decides to take the baby for breakfast down the street from their Soho apartment. When he finds his favorite diner closed, John (with Clara, still sleeping, nestled into the baby carrier on his chest) even more impulsively grabs a cab and tries to decide where he could spend some time with the baby. Rejecting the few usual options, John has a sudden, strong urge to take the baby on a trip out of a New York City winter to the sunshine of the Caribbean island where Veronica grew up going on vacation with her family.
A wild adventure – to play hooky from a job he hates and spend time with his infant daughter whom he loves – and it will give Veronica a break.
Here’s the opening of the book:
Kidnap was not the right word. John had simply meant to take Clara to breakfast at the corner diner, where they had good poached eggs and were especially kind to babies. But in the end he couldn’t explain the inexorable pull, the electric thrum that made him rise from the bed, strangely untethered, and begin to shave with scalding water, or the innocence of his motive – he just wanted to be with her. He couldn’t describe the indefinite urgency that had propelled him. Yes, he took the baby with him, but she was his daughter.
As the weekend progresses, the book switches back and forth so readers know what John is doing and then what Veronica does in the same time period, believing he and the baby are at his mother’s although she has been unable to reach him by phone. In this time outside of their usual experience, each of them goes through wild mood swings, from calm reflection to intense anxiety, and comes to new realizations about love, marriage, and parenthood.
I enjoyed reading The Sunshine When She’s Gone, but it seemed like another very New York story (although the author now lives in Chicago) so I may be in a rut with my reading. If you like New York stories, try this one. If you like books about couples breaking out of their normal, relatively privileged lives like A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee, or if you like novels about adjusting to life with a new baby like Winter Wife by Jessica Auerbach, you will probably enjoy The Sunshine When She’s Gone. I did!
The Sunshine When She’s Gone
March 5, 2013