We Shall Not All Sleep by Estep Nagy


“While sharing nothing else, lila thought, this man and her husband both spoke from a very hot core of certainty.” 

In We Shall Not All Sleep, there are two houses on the Seven Island- one for the  Hillsingers one for the Quicks’ and the two are rooted in each other. Despite sharing the island and marrying  wealthy sisters, Billy Quick and Jim Hillsinger keep the families apart. It is the anniversary of Hannah’s death, surviving sister Lila is finding herself drawn to Billy, and the children are running wild. “Billy Quick hated mysticism in all it’s many forms, but it was nevertheless true that, with Lila, only vanishing images were real.”   In a sweet conversation about what fairies eat, we come to see this ethereal side of Lila. “But what do fairies eat?” Isa said for the thousandth time. “Fairies eat the sunlight.” Lila said yet again.  Jim is a spy kicked out of the CIA, the reader is thrown between past and present slowly unraveling what has happened. With Hannah the author is touching on a time in history when suspicions of communism ran rampant. Jim was accused of treason, but must go quietly, though innocent. Hannah is guilty, but why? She is just a teacher. How did this happen? That Hannah had cut ties with the family, working as a teacher in a sort of ‘invisible’ manner may well have been the nail in her coffin. We find out what happened with Hannah in flashbacks through time.  Sometimes it made the reading difficult, just when I was immersed in the present it interrupted the flow. The ‘help’ is as much a part of the two island, juggling the difficulty of the families emotional distance. Beyond Lila, I was less interested in the adults and more in the children as they were beautiful creations. “Penny Quick asked questions, and she was watching all the time. The alert ones were the most dangerous, and Martha had never seen her before last week.” They are each full of character, some cruel, others sweet.

The dissension between Lila and Jim are in the banishment of their young son Catta to an island nearby. In this the reader is reminded of a time when sons were ‘toughened up’ and ‘mad a man’ by being thrown into situations beyond their age. A time when women didn’t have as much control in what their husbands decided for their children. Catta changes after the incident, but his future isn’t meant to become like the old generation of men before him. The strain between the families is a thick fog, misunderstanding, animosity, blame, desires… There are moments in this story that worked for me, but times when I got lost with the back and forth. It reads as a literary historical fiction, and the author doesn’t need to come out and state why there is tension, it’s alive in every conversation, comment, action of the characters. Wealth isn’t without a rotten core. I had a hard time connecting with the adults, the children were far more interesting to me. I was expecting more intrigue, or maybe I missed it. I liked it, but I didn’t fully follow what was happening and found myself going back to read again which is unusual for me.

Publication Date: July 4, 2017

Bloomsbury USA


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