A decade in the future, in the historic town of Vigil Harbor, there's been a rash of divorces among the yacht-club set; a marine biologist despairs at the state of the world; a spurned wife is bent on revenge; and the renowned architect Austin Kepner pursues a passion for building homes to withstand the escalating fury of coastal storms. Brecht, Austin's stepson, has dropped out of college and retreated home from New York after narrowly escaping one of the domestic terrorist acts that, like hurricanes, are becoming all too common. When two outsiders come to town-one a woman determined to solve the disappearance of a long-lost lover who links her to Austin, the other a man with subversive charms-the fates of Vigil Harbor's residents become intertwined on one remarkable day and a long-held secret involving a selkie comes to light.
It is impossible to hide in a small town ... Many of the passionate, mysterious, and mysteriously passionate characters in Julia Glass’s new novel, Vigil Harbor, foolishly try to flout this almost axiomatic principle of small town life, creating an intimate and satisfying tableau of humanity as their deceptions trickle out and the deceivers are tracked down ... Glass ensures that the various voices telling her stories sound distinctive, something ignored by too many authors writing from multiple points of view, which adds a lushness to the relatable stories they tell about the stresses of relationships, security, parenting, and trust ... While the novel’s dramas play out mainly on the small stage of Vigil Harbor, its themes arise from global and even existential events, with Glass drawing on a richly imagined world some dozen years in the future. Sad to say, that future does not look bright ... After all the trauma, several characters question how comfortable they feel in Vigil Harbor, but readers should enjoy the time they spend there due to Glass’s felicitous attention to the nuances of small town life, from the pleasure found in pageantry to the nearly mythic status of longtime teachers. But ultimately this is a story about people, about understanding and acceptance, about love and violence, and about how no matter where we live, we need each other, especially when times are tough.
... sprawling and engrossing ... Though the book is thick with back story, the main action takes place over the course of a few days, and is parceled out to nine narrators. It makes for a heavily populated novel ... Glass is a masterful builder of fictional people, an expert at charting the architecture of entire lives. But at times Vigil Harbor evokes the feeling of an overgrown garden. There’s enough material here for two or three separate novels, and Glass’s maximalism creates a certain diffuseness of theme as the reader is presented with almost too many competing interests to track ... Certain thematic questions also feel slightly unresolved, particularly when it comes to politics ... Where this book shines is in its portraits of grief and uncertainty ... In this moment, Vigil Harbor transcends the mood of collective but cloistered worry and becomes a novel about what remains.
Glass’ narrative is buoyed by how she offers us gentle glimpses into each person’s makeup. She gives us insight into their souls and the damage done to them during the timeline of the story, sugar cube by sugar cube. Like a hungry thoroughbred, we step quietly and decisively through the town, picking up details and adding them to our sacks full of tidbits of info that will provide a full meal at the end of the book ... To base a novel on a possible future, one of the many that could be awaiting us, and by centering its people on the ocean --- a place of great violence but also great peace, the element most likely to reconfigure itself without the least concern for mankind --- Vigil Harbor is both a societal comment and a blueprint for the next step ... The characters are so beautifully drawn, and they do not preach about the past or their regrets over what they didn’t do to protect the old world. Each one has a singular story to tell, and eventually they are woven together in such a deceptively easy way that you may feel gobsmacked. It is a tribute to Glass’ shining prose and heartfelt dialogue that we are so immersed in the moment-to-moment actions of the story that we find surprise in sudden movements ... a book that asks a little more of your summer reading brain, but its immersion and lessons about our future as a species and as a country are worth every concentrated effort.