It begins and ends with an open door.
“They are very different kinds of doors and implications. I would like to say I plotted it out, but I did not. As I was finishing, I knew, ‘That’s how it has to end, just before they walk into the room.’ Then it hit me, ‘That’s how it begins.’”
I had not noticed this symmetry, although I liked the first sentence so much I did a sacred reading on it. Just a little lectio divina on these seven words:
She must have left the door ajar.”
At first I assumed the POV was Michael’s, as most of the books are, in that close third-person way. But this is book is different. This book is not about the father but about the son, Tommy. What happens when Tommy walks through that “ajar” door and when Michael walks through that same door, left “slightly open,” those events set up the whole book.
“What none of them understood was how the incident in the studio would reverberate for the next twenty years.”
When I think of a door ajar, I think of the wardrobe door in Narnia. In Glynn’s book the characters don’t walk into a fantasy world but into a new destiny. The plot changes because of that open door. And when the book ends with someone opening a door, it is an opening into a new life.
For such a short sentence, the individual words do a lot of heavy lifting.
left—There are leavings in this story. There is the leaving of death, the leaving of moving, the leaving that is a deep conflict in relationship.
door—One of the key plot points concerns two paintings, hidden behind doors.
ajar—Something can be left ajar on purpose or by accident. In leaving this door ajar, Sarah is making an opening where one did not exist before. It’s messy, but fundamentally, she’s right, and her rightness will be proved later. Her studio is always where she’s right.
The unexpectedness of the book’s opening — it surprised Glynn too.
“It wasn’t planned this way at all. Book number 8 or 9, that was going to be the Tommy book. But this kid kept sticking his head in. It got pretty annoying. It’s hard to describe that, but he kept sticking his face in everything,” Glynn said. Then he decided, “if this is the last story, [Tommy] is the one it’s going to be about.”
What happens behind the open door is conflict, both momentary and lasting.
“What I had running through my head as I wrote that section was the idea of what happens when a work responsibility — in Michael’s case it was greater because it’s who he is, he is Government — what happens when the demands become so great that things suffer, things you don’t want to have suffer. It was his relationship with Sarah, with the family, that’s what suffered.,” he said. “It’s a small thing that triggers that conflict. But it was not a small thing that was being triggered, and [Michael and Sarah] both recognized it. Tommy becomes the reminder of that.”
Near the end of the book is a scene when Michael and Tommy are sitting together, confronting all the water beneath their mutual bridge.
“It was inspired by a sermon that our pastor told a couple years ago. It so rocked me that I wrote down a line that he used and put it in the scene,” Glynn said. “Some of it, too, is personal. I had something of a similar relationship with my father, although of course not exactly that. I understood what was happening with Michael. Blow-ups happen for absolutely ridiculous reasons.”
I think my favorite part of the book is the epilogue, a novella titled “Island.” Again, this part of the story was a departure for Glynn.
“When I sent it to the publisher, he said, ‘Did you write this? This is so different from the Michael and Sarah stories.’ I said, ‘It is.’ The idea goes back years. I’d been reading off and on about Viking history and the Orkney Islands and the Celtic and Viking history that saturated the Orkneys. It’s true that there were Irish monks who were missionaries to Vikings. So I created this fictitious island. I wrote it in present tense, which was a different thing to do. It just seemed like it made the story a lot more immediate. I tried writing it the traditional way, but it didn’t read well. I thought, ‘Present tense, this works better,’” Glynn said, adding, “And it’s the transition because I think want to write other things. This was a way for me to sort of get there.”
I also think “Island” is the entire five-book series, in miniature. It’s got the hallmarks of the story Glynn has been telling all along — an international setting, violence, royalty in unexpected places, the “far love” of parent-child estrangement, kindness and respect for society’s outcasts, and of course, true love.
“When I think about it, although this has been published over an eight-year period, it was written over an 18-year period. I’d reached a point where I thought there were three or four more books, but I then I thought it might be the time to bring it to a close. Nothing prompted that, just my own sense of five is probably sufficient. I felt comfortable ending it like this. There wasn’t anything significant being omitted or overlooked,” Glynn said.
My friend Callie Feyen says that love stories are inherently adventure stories. This book and this series are full of adventures, some chosen and some thrust upon the characters. There have been moments that broke my heart, moments that terrified me, moments that thrilled me. A kiss can be as momentous as a gold medal. I would gladly have read 16 books about this family, but I think Glynn wrapped it up at exactly the right spot:
… and then he opened the door.”