Before We Sleep
World War II’s effects are felt for two generations in Lent’s powerful family story, set both the postwar period and 1967. The courtship and marriage between Ruth and Oliver Snow are examined through the viewpoints of Ruth, and, briefly, Oliver.
A man changed by war trauma, Oliver returns home to Vermont to his parents and young wife. He can no longer deal with people in his father’s store and becomes reclusive, until he finds an outlet in music: playing and repairing fiddles of old-time and French-Canadian masters. His family expands their boundaries of normal to accommodate: he goes from nights stocking shelves at his father’s store to being his daughter Katey’s primary parent. Ruth becomes the breadwinning teacher, adapting to her changing circumstances.
In June 1967, Katey takes the family pickup truck on a runaway journey of self-discovery before she’s set to graduate high school. She’s been in a contentious relationship with her mother for some time. When her father reveals—at the height of one of many arguments—that it is his old army buddy, Brian Potter, who may have sired Katey, she hits the road to find him. On her journey, Katey discovers both the seashore and the counterculture before finding Brian Potter in Virginia. After each takes the measure of the other, Katey learns that her family’s story is both more complex and richer than she had imagined.
The taciturn characters who fill Jeffrey Lent’s novel reveal themselves in the details of their lives. They learn that it is not for them to choose great loves, gifts, or sorrows. Beautifully written and evocative of place, Before We Sleep rends the heart and nourishes the soul.