Book-Review and Interview: „Under a Dark Sky“ by Lori Rader-Day

Book-Review and Interview: „Under a Dark Sky“ by Lori Rader-Day

I’m quite picky with books these days. Time is precious, and there are so many average books in the shops that opening a new one often is a frustrating business. Then I found Under a Dark Sky by Lori Rader-Day – and couldn’t put it down.

I didn’t choose the book because of the many good critiques and comparisons with Agatha Christie. I also didn’t care much about the many awards Lori Rader-Day had won for her other books. I picked the book because of its location. It’s a murder-mystery set in a dark sky park. And it’s about being afraid of the dark.

The book

The book starts when Eden arrives at a dark sky park. She’s not the usual park visitor. She is not interested in the stars, in fact, she is terrified by the dark. But she has come here to get over her grief after her husband died. He had booked this trip without telling her and now she wants to find out why, hoping to be able to overcome her fear of the darkness, and her constant nightmares.

But from the very beginning, things go wrong. At her arrival in the park, she finds out that she has to share the guesthouse with a group of happy, young, successful college friends, who reunite after five years. Eden decides to leave in the morning, but until then she has to live through a very dark night. When one of the friends is murdered, Eden, like everyone else in the house, becomes a suspect. Feeling isolated, unwanted, and terrified by the dark, Eden tries to find the truth and learns a lot about the group of friends, and even more about herself.

The story is told from the perspective of Eden, whose life is an absolute mess and who lost confidence in herself. She is not the supreme heroine with a professional mind to solve a mystery, but a real woman with lots of problems and doubts. All she wants is to go home, but she realises that she might be the only person to find the murderer. And she needs to do it quickly, because every night she is confronted with her phobia of darkness.

While Lori Rader-Day takes us on a journey into the soul of Eden, she reveils the secrets of the friends, and their actually not so successful, happy existence. And while these young people are busy with their self-importance, Eden finds an unsuspected ally and understands an important lesson: We are all made of star dust.

Under a Dark Sky has several things I love in a book: believable characters, a captivating story, and some philosophical moments, that made me think about life, the universe, and the rest. I couldn’t put it down, and it won’t be the last book by Lori Rader-Day I will read.

Interview with award-winning author Lori Rader-Day

Photo by Justin Barbin

I got the chance to ask Lori a few questions about the stars and darkness. Please read her beautiful answers:

How did you get the idea to write a book that is situated in a Dark Sky park?

I heard or saw (probably online) a news story about a new dark sky park being designated by the International Dark-Sky Association, probably way back in 2011 or 2012, and I thought…what a fantastic setting for a murder mystery. That’s just how my mind works, since that’s what I write. I’m sure that’s not what the IDA had in mind when they started the program.

Have you ever been in a Dark Sky Park yourself? What was your experience?

Yes! I visited the Headlands International Dark Sky Park to research the book, as I chose the Headlands as the model for the park I wrote about. I loved finally being in the place I had been researching and writing about. When I finally arrived at the park after so much research, it felt as though I had already been there. Unfortunately for my husband and me, that visit, it was cloudy. We could see more stars than we can see in Chicago, where we live, but not as many as we knew we would normally be able to see on a clear night at the park. Since then, I have been back to the Headlands to promote the book (they sell copies of it in their gift shop!) and got to see the Milky Way. It was stunning. I can’t wait to go back. I have also recently visited a dark sky community, Beverly Shores, Indiana. It’s a lovely little town on Lake Michigan that is surrounded by park land.

Do you believe that the experience of a dark sky and the view of the Milky Way is important for people?

Foto by Greg Rakozy via Unsplash

I think it should be. I don’t know about you, but when I was young, I dreamed on the stars. Looking at the stars and imagining kids all over the world looking up at the same sky gave me a bigger perspective than I would have received any other way in the community in which I lived at the time. Actually—community isn’t the right word. When I could really see the stars, I lived out in the countryside. It was a beautiful, starry place to grow up, if lonely, and wishing on stars is good for that, too.

Eden is afraid of the dark. Though her emotions are very strong, they are shared by many people, so we tend to use lots of light. Why do you think are people so afraid of the dark?

I think we have conflated the dark with crime (and I’m not helping here, writing a crime novel set in a dark sky park) but better lighting doesn’t save us from the darkness within people. People will do what they’ll do, unfortunately. Better lighting actually makes *them* feel more comfortable. As a species we’re so far removed from nature in all its forms. The only answer is for us to find a way to spend more time in nature, in darkness, within ourselves, in peace. That’s a big assignment for most Americans, I think. A lot of people, perhaps universally, have trouble being quiet with their own thoughts, so they can’t imagine putting down the phones and TVs and looking up at the sky instead.

With all the light we are using, we lose the view of stars. Most people in developed countries have never seen a pristine night sky. Do you have any ideas how to convince people that darkness has its beauty and value and to let go of their fears?

Photo by Jeremy Thomas via Unsplash

I wish I did. The thing that got me interested in the stars were the constellations and the stories associated with them. Stories are the gateway to so much understanding we might gain of another person’s life and struggles; story is how we learn to live and to empathize with one another, which we need to do to live. A lot of these lessons feel very lost right now. It’s a very fearful time for many of us, but I think stories can take us places we didn’t realize we needed to go, and maybe they will save us, yet. I know that since I started working on Under a Dark Sky, I have sent a lot of people to visit dark sky places. That gives me hope that people do want to experience dark skies and that they will want to protect them once they know more about them.

What are your greatest personal concerns about light pollution?

I live in Chicago, where you can see about…two stars. Two. One of them is probably Venus, actually. My initial interest is from remembering that childhood of being able to see so many stars and wanting that for kids today. Most of the problems in the world could be fixed if we could work together and understand that our actions have an impact on others—and those are both lessons that a dark night sky can teach. Beyond that, I worry about wildlife. We have built up our lands so much that we’re becoming the only animal that can survive (for now) what we’ve done to the planet. I can’t watch any more sad polar bear videos on the internet. It ruins me. Human life is in real danger in the next few decades, but a lot of people don’t want to face that. Maybe saving the dark sky is a way we can engage people who can’t understand the deeper issues, a way to bring more people into the conversations we need to have.

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