four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
54-Sept-Oct-2011
By: 
John Sayles
user_rating: 
0

A-MomentSunJohn Sayles, Oscar-nominated independent filmmaker and screenwriter (The Return of the Secaucus 7, Lone Star, Amigo) and National Book Award–nominated author (Union Dues [1977], Los Gusanos [1991], The Anarchist's Convention and Other Stories [1979]), offers an expansive look at turn-of-the-last-century America, warts and all, in his latest novel, A Moment in the Sun.

The Story: In 1897, former farmer and miner Hod Brackenridge seeks his fortune in the Klondike gold mines and unwittingly begins an odyssey that will take him to the Philippines, where he will join the army's "military intervention." Along with Niles Manigault, his superior officer, and two African American friends from Wilmington, North Carolina, Hod fights in the Philippine-American war against rebels caught between the Spanish and their American occupiers. Spanning six years and juggling dozens of characters both fictional and historical (Mark Twain and Leon Czolgosz--President McKinley's assassin--appear, as do many others), A Moment in the Sun encompasses the whole of American history during that critical time, examining issues of race, imperialism, and culture as a nascent country grows into its future.
McSweeney's. 968 pp. $29. ISBN: 9781936365180.

San Francisco Chronicle 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[Sayles's] breathtaking precision and attention to detail can make E.L. Doctorow's historical novels look puny and slapdash by comparison. His ability to map the intersections of scores of plots and hundreds of fictional and real-life characters is truly stunning." Adam Langer

Daily Beast 4 of 5 Stars
"[The novel] crisscrosses Cuba, Alaska, Manhattan, and the Philippines as it tells the story of America at the turn of the 20th century. ... A Moment in the Sun looks past its contemporaries on the New Releases shelf and takes a page instead from John Dos Passos, whose gigantic U.S.A. trilogy is a stylistic and spiritual forebear. Ben Crair

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"This novel will probably be praised as a distant mirror of contemporary history, of Vietnam and Iraq, and it is that. But its true importance lies not in its rearview relevance but in its commitment to recalling in heroic detail a little-known and contradictory historical moment." Tom LeClair

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"A Moment in the Sun is an epic saga that brings splendidly to life a neglected chapter in American history, one which Sayles convincingly if obliquely argues is the starting point for much of what, for good or ill (but mostly ill), the U.S, has become. Rich in obsessively researched historical detail, the mammoth, nearly 1,000-page book also takes the time and space to create richly imagined, thoroughly realistic and resolutely nonheroic characters that come vividly to life." Marc Mohan

Critical Summary

Weighing in at nearly a thousand pages, A Moment in the Sun could plausibly stand in for a doorstop or a Thomas Pynchon novel (Pynchon's Against the Day wins the head-to-head by about a hundred pages). In fact, the historical bent to John Sayles's latest effort, as far from cinema's visual shorthand in scope as one might get, will remind readers of both Pynchon and E. L. Doctorow in calling to mind long-forgotten historical events and presenting them as fresh, vital, and important in the country's development. Sayles, best known for his work in film, understands equally well how words on the page create meaning. The novel carries readers along on the currents of American history, through a cavalcade of fictional and historical characters and the author's improbably wide river of words.