The Sunlight Dialogues

ISBN: 0811216705
ISBN 13: 9780811216708
By: John Gardner Charles R. Johnson

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Reader's Thoughts


I agree with the New York Times Book Review (I usually do), this book is "large and beautifully written." It is those things in the extreme. I wish I could write like this: expansive in scope, deep in character. The craft! The skill! The architecture of the sentences and paragraphs! The 1960s!Also, this book is about 750 pages. A long book. It took me longer than I'm used to to finish it. And I admit, there were passages I skimmed toward the end. That might have undermined the final impact of the novel. So, I loved reading it, but I'm not entirely sure what to make of it.I am, however, brilliantly excited to read another of Gardner's books. Maybe Grendel.


Challenging read, deeply developed characters. Faulkner-esque if Faulkner had lived in western NY State. I read as a college sophomore and again in 2013, thoroughly delighted and diverted, but not for folks who avoid pages of unparagraphed textured discursive writing.

Jesse Brakefield

John Gardner is one of those authors who always makes you work for it...and it's always worth the work.


this was a difficult read for me, long, complicated but worthwhile. There's little "sunlight" in Gardner's exploration of the interior processes of his several main characters. I don't know why I had never read the book before. It came out in 1972 but I don't remember knowing about it then. Could be that the "Tabacco Farm Network" in Plymouth NC (where we were living at the time) didn't mention it's publication.

DJ Dycus

Ugh! So glad to be through this. Finally. I've read several books by Gardner that I've really enjoyed, so I had pretty high expectations for this.Reading this was like 700 pages of a William Faulkner whose passion is philosophy, but he's insecure so he's got to demonstrate his IQ throughout the novel. 700 pages of this tedious, dense, convoluted, multi-generational mess. Is Gardner brilliant? Yes. Does this novel demonstrate an ability to engage an audience? Definitely not. (You know, the first part of dulce et utile?)If you're smarter and more patient than I am, and you thoroughly enjoyed this novel: kudos to you!I still have quite a bit that I'm looking forward to with Gardner, so I haven't given up on him. But the few outstanding passages I found littered throughout this work don't justify a recommendation on my part. Look elsewhere.

Jacob Andra

I slogged about halfway through this one before giving up. Maybe another time. Gardner is a terrific writer, but he waxes so darn philosophical! It makes for slow going.


I usually love John Gardner. Everything I've read of his up until now has ended up on my favorites list, but this book was nearly impossible for me to get through. There were so many characters and the narrator often referred to the characters by description rather than name, so it was confusing to figure out who was speaking or being described. It felt very long and contrived. The story idea is creative and Gardner often paints very vivid, quirky, and interesting characters, but I felt this time they were a bit flat.


I picked up this book because I enjoyed the unique perspective and voice Gardner had found in "Grendel". I ended up being immersed in the small-town yet universal world that has created in this book for nearly a month. It is a long book and very dense. The cast of characters is large (I was happy to have the list of characters summarized at the beginning of the book for reference.) If you are looking for a page-turner, this is not the book. But if you are looking for fully developed characters that step out of the book and into your life, universal themes framed by the small details of life, and a sense when you are done that you are not the same person as the one who first picked up the book, then this is a book you will like.

Sue Jelus

John Gardner was a poet-novelist in the way he attended to detail! In this book, and others, he created quirky, fascinating characters, which keep the reader entertained as the story develops slowly.


John Gardner's epic probably fits his ideal of a "moral" fiction to the teeth, but this in turn means the work is simply exhaustive--no moment for detail is left un-investigated; no character is dealt with tersely or for mere narrative means. Some of the characters are interesting and much of the description is downright mesmerizing, yet I cannot say I enjoyed the avoidance of brevity like a disease. It also doesn't help that the ending didn't seem to tie enough of the narrative together. I seriously enjoyed many parts of this book, but ironically I think that Gardner's epic would have been more successful if he had taken fewer pages to tell it, focusing on delivering a more concise and cohesive work that matches his many moments of stark clarity as a storyteller.


The main character is introduced in prison where he calls himself the sunlight man. Complex inter-relationships, philosophical diatribes and wonderful character development.


I love Gardener. That's all there is to it. If you liked any of his other books you won't be disappoint, buy neither will you be surprised.

Richard Epstein

Remember John Gardner? No one else does either. He was once a Great American Novelist, albeit only briefly. I wonder if the Wheel will spin him round again.


I keep coming back to this book. It's a classic that is always worth reading again. A strange visitor called The Sunlight Man with a mysterious past and some serious behavioral issues drops into a suburban community in upstate New York and begins to wreak havoc. His invasive and anarchic presence there comes to the attention of Clumly, the chief of police. Thus begins a series of confrontations between the two, which eventually evolve into clandestine meetings between them, and the "dialogues" (really lectures), of the title, given by the Sunlight Man. With all this surreal disruption of his formerly normal life, Clumly's rational world begins to unravel. Around Clumly and The Sunlight Man is a huge cast of characters, and this book lists them at its opening, as they would be listed in a play program, just in case you can't tell the players without a scorecard. TSD is about as beautiful a treatment of the concept of the balance between order and chaos in society (and the need for both), as one could hope for.


This is a novel that demands to be reread, and with care. There is so much going on that it becomes hard to keep it all straight sometimes. Nevertheless, the book is a great epic that centers on western New York.

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