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Shawn Smucker mesmerized readers with his debut novel The Day the Angels Fell, which won a 2018 Christianity Today Book Award. Now Smucker writes another spellbinding novel, Light from Distant Stars, which looks at how trauma affects our lenses on past and present events and the path to rediscovering grace and hope.
When Cohen Marah steps over the body of his father, he has no idea that he will tread into a labyrinth of memory. He recalls the dramatic events that led to his father being asked to leave his pastoral position, the game of baseball that somehow kept them together, and the two children in the forest who became his friends—and enlisted him in a dark and dangerous undertaking. As he confronts his traumatic past and his violent present, he must also ask himself the most frightening question of all—did he kill his father?
As the lines blur between what is real and what is imaginary, Light from Distant Stars relays a tale both eerie and enchanting, one that will have you questioning reality and reaching out for what is true, good, and genuine.
I stood in center field, a 12-year-old kid wearing a ball cap with one of those adjustable bands that I could never get small enough. My ears stuck out at the side like wings. I pushed the hair out of my eyes and stared through 150 feet of summer haze towards home plate, waiting to see if the hitter would make contact.
Behind me, the tiny town of Gap, PA, sat at the intersection of two highways: Route 30, heading east and west, from Philadelphia to Lancaster, and Route 41, sprawling to the southeast, into the hills of Chester County. There was the Pizza Box and Gap Diner and, in those days, the brand-new McDonalds. There were two hills covered in old houses. That was it. That was the setting for what I would later think back on as The Catch.
The kid at home plate made good contact, and the ball bounced off his bat, rose up, higher and higher. I drifted, jogged, then ran backwards as fast as I could, tracking the ball, sprinting faster. When the ball plunged towards earth, I dove, opened my glove, and hoped for the best.
I remember hitting the ground hard. I remember reaching into my glove and, miracle of all miracles, finding the baseball hidden there, a treasure. I remember hopping up and running, so filled with joy and pride that it hurt, and my friends on the team slapped my back with their floppy leather gloves and clung to me with their spreading grins, jostling me on the head in their own kind of elation, my hat tipping to the side.
Did any of it happen exactly this way? I have co-written enough memoirs, and heard enough contradicting perspectives, to know that our memory is a tricky thing, subtle in the ways that it misleads us. Did I dive or fall over? Did I save the day or was the game well in hand? Did the entire team surround me, or did one friend come over and give me a smile?
I have never, until this day, 30 years later, wondered about the boy who hit the ball. Does he still remember the ping of the ball on his aluminum bat, the way it sailed towards the early moon? Was it the hardest he had ever hit a ball in his life? Did his stomach fall when he realized I had caught it?
Or has that moment vanished from his memories, as so many of my childhood disappointments have vanished from mine?
No matter. I remember how the sun set on those late, summer evenings, and the heavy smell of alfalfa freshly cut. I remember opening the car window and racing my hand up and down in the lukewarm air as we cut through fields on backroads that led all the way home. I remember falling asleep to the sound of raspy crickets and the blinking pulse of lightning bugs.
My favorite memory of summer? Summer itself is my favorite memory. No matter how dramatic The Catch might have been.
Shawn Smucker is the author of the young adult novels The Day the Angels Fell and The Edge of Over There, as well as the memoir Once We Were Strangers. He