gardner’s opus


Written between 1966 and 1968, The Sunlight Dialogues contains more than 80 characters, eight parallel and intersecting story lines, 24 chapters (as an epic should), and weighs in at a hefty 690 pages. Set in 1966 in Batavia, New York, where the author was born and raised, it is the tale of a town’s disintegration from supposed perfection (the mythic American dream); a prominent family’s tragic descent into betrayal, death, and madness; and, holding its many narrative threads together, an aging policeman’s pursuit of a fire-scarred magician (the mark of Cain carried also by Grendel) who returns to Batavia—a place of real and false oracles and omens—bringing death as he preaches anarchy and radical freedom. Steeped in the fever-swamp conflicts of the late 1960s, when the civil-rights movement soured into violent black militancy, hippies transformed into yippies and Weathermen, and the federal government was preparing for the real possibility of civil war, Gardner’s fourth novel is for many critics, such as Gregory Morris, his “most expansive, most sophisticated, and most skilled intellectual declaration.”

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