Review by Tess Tabak
The Dying of the Light is a sumptuous feast of a book, rich in texture and detail. Robert Goolrick tells the life story of Diana Cooke, the jewel of a dying Southern empire. She and her family invest everything they have, their very souls, into saving their estate, a sprawling house named Saratoga.
Even though Diana’s story contains more tragedy than light, Goolrick’s impeccable eye for detail make this book a pleasure to read. He includes glorious descriptions of the luxuries in Diana’s life: her fine clothing, and the Southern scenery.
“For a moment she stood, freed from her father’s arm as he wheeled himself back from her, until she was alone in the light, eyes lowered demurely, under the hundreds of candles in the seemingly hundreds of crystal chandeliers, the luminous room catching the glitter from her warrior’s tiara, her luminous, flawless skin, and then she bowed her head, her swan’s neck bending so that her chin touched her neck, and made the curtsy that was so elegant, so graceful, it was forever to be named after her.”
A period piece, Goolrick looks back on the Southern mores of the early 20th century from a modern perspective, contrasting stated virtuosity with the freer, private lives, peeling back what was actually going on behind the veneer. He writes with a modern frankness about sex, placing us in the mindset of that time period, creating the illusion of a new classic, an updated Great Gatsby, if you will.
Our perspective is 2018, but the story is entrenched in the past. Even if the characters are not, the narrator is aware of all the moving parts that built the great Southern empires: the slave labors, the still-exploited African American serving staff. Diana and her family are clinging to something that no longer exists, a pure idea of American blue bloods. They tend towards self-indulgence, even though they know that their excess will be their downfall. Goolrick draws every character’s humanity crystal-clear, so that even as they hurl themselves towards doom, not only is it impossible to look away, you understand exactly where they are coming from.
The Dying of the Light was released July 2018 by Harper Collins.
The Furious Gazelle received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.