Light of Day by Jamie M. Saul is the story of a man coming to terms with his fourteen-year-old son's suicide. The book opens with college professor Jack Owens waiting for his work day to end and thinking about his son, looking forward to picking him up later that afternoon. Their busy schedules only allow them so much time to spend together each day, usually only at breakfast and maybe at dinner. Today was a day they would be spending some quality time together after their respective days were over. While Jack is sitting in his office, he receives a knock at his door and learns from a detective that his son is dead. It appears to be suicide.
Looking back on their lives, Jack tries to figure out what he did wrong to cause his son’s suicide and reminisces about his life with Danny's mother, Anne, who was an artist struggling to get recognized. She left Danny and Jack when Danny was five to focus on her career, but the tell-tale signs of her restlessness came much earlier than that. Danny took his mother's departure hard, and Jack vowed to take care of Danny and to make him a good life. This is where Jack thinks he's failed, and as he mourns the loss of his son and the life he was trying so hard to make for them, he spirals downward, becoming withdrawn, upset at how he could not protect his son from life.
Light of Day is a great character study of people who are struggling to do the right thing. But what is “the right thing?” Is it to have a family? Is it to follow what traditions say is the right thing to do? Or is it to stay true to oneself? Jack ponders these questions and goes over and over the highlights of his past life with Danny and his Anne.
Danny, in turn, had gone through the same struggle, as the reader will find out. His last important question to his father, which becomes the resounding theme of Light of Day, was the importance of loyalty versus honesty. Which is more important? This question haunts Jack throughout the novel, as he feels this is the crux of what was bothering his son before he took his life.
Each of the characters struggles with the conflict of honesty versus loyalty. Anne Charon, Jack’s wife and Danny’s mother, wrestles with this issue as she tries so hard to be a loving mother yet feels the tug of her career so strongly in her heart. Anne knows deep down that her true nature is to be an artist. She feels no calling to be a mother,and is frightened of it.
Jack Owen is a father and a writer, and while he looks back and sees what his life could have been if Danny had never been born, he is a lot more grounded, knowing that everything he did was for Danny. Being a father at this point was not an option for Jack - it was his duty. He gave up his writing career to give Danny the life he deserved. And Danny grapples with the issue of loyalty over honesty, even at such a young age, taking on a heavy weight on his shoulders that will eventually cause him to take his life.
Light of Day is filled with heavy themes but at times reads like a “whodunit”. The reader is going to want to know what really happened to Danny, to learn more about Danny’s past and piece together the puzzle that will solve the question of Danny’s death. Saul’s writing is beautiful and concise, taking the reader through a journey into one man’s past as he tries to put together the pieces of his son’s life. It’s a book that will bring out the tissues, especially for those who have children and understand how such a loss would impact their lives. One of the best books this reviewer has read so far this year, Light of Day will surely be remembered as a great debut novel by this up-and-coming author.