Bloomsbury, July 4, 2017.
We Shall Not All Sleep covers the events of three summer days in 1964, on a small island in New England. Seven Island is shared by two wealthy families, the Hillsingers and the Quicks – although technically related by marriage, there is animosity between the families and they do not mix with each other. However, the events of these three days draw them together in unexpected ways.
Lila and Hannah are sisters that have married Jim Hillsinger and Billy Quick, respectively. The sisters hold the families together, although there is little communication between them. However, on the anniversary of Hannah’s death, Lila finds herself drawn to her brother-in-law Billy – especially as her husband Jim pulls away from her. Recently ousted from his career at the CIA due to allegations of treason, Jim is desperate to control his environment, and he begins by sending his twelve-year-old son Catta to neighbouring Baffin Island to “become a man.”
The story takes place at the height of the Cold War and McCarthyism, and the historical aspects of the novel were the most compelling for me. Hannah was once a member of the Communist Party, and before her death, her past came back to haunt her – her story is told in flashbacks as she is persecuted for something she never even really believed in. There is intrigue and mystery in Hannah’s story. Then there are the more literary issues of class, wealth and family conflict on Seven Island. Finally, there is also Catta’s boyhood adventure on Baffin Island. The novel jumps between these three plots and really three different genres, and it’s sometimes hard to follow.
There is also a very large cast of characters, who are often confusing and difficult to keep track of. The narration moves around rapidly, within each chapter, and I found it very distracting. There were a lot of good parts, but ultimately there was too much going on and too many separate stories – they would have been much more satisfying if taken separately and embellished on, instead of being forced to fit together. The writing is strong and ambitious, but the narration is messy and meandering. I think this novel would benefit from having tighter focus on the main plot, but Nagy is still a talented writer to watch in the future.
I received this book from Bloomsbury and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.