We Shall Not All Sleep by Estep Nagy is a haunting novel of betrayal, scheming, familial ties, and manipulation. The novel takes place over a highly charged three day period during the summer of 1964. Events unfold in the novel following Hannah’s untimely death, and after Jim Hillsinger has been ousted from the CIA on the suspicion that he has committed treason. Set against the backdrop of the escalating Soviet threat, this novel is rife with secrets, scandals, and revenge.
The Hillsingers and the Quicks have retreated to the island of Seven each summer for generations. Before Jim Hillsinger and Billy Quick married sisters, the two families lived largely separate lives. The aforementioned sisters are nearly polar opposites. Lila, the eldest is a charming, beautiful socialite. She presides over dinner parties with a practiced and refined grace. Hannah, the youngest is a radical schoolteacher determined to revolutionize the world. She renounces her former life of privilege, and moves with her new husband to Harlem. However, after a flirtation with the communist party, Hannah soon finds out that she is in over her head and gets more than she bargained for.
During these fateful three days, Jim Hillsinger realizes that an innocent mistake made by Lila, his wife, largely contributed to his dismissal from the CIA. To make matters worse he learns that in her confusion and grief over Hannah’s untimely death she turned to Billy Quick for comfort. As revenge, Jim acts on an old threat to force their 12 year old son, Catta, to spend the night on the island of Baffin, an island with notoriously dense tree growth.
We have been lied to all along about sin. The true wages of sin are to have no options, to be forced to smile while the punishment is given.
Through a series of shortly rendered chapters, much like snapshots that offer momentary glimpses into the minds of each of the characters the events of the three days unfold. Though he returns scraped and bloody, Catta’s night on Baffin is successful. He is able to navigate the inhospitable terrain, and make the long, treacherous swim back to the island of Seven. Lila realizes that her tryst with Billy Quick meant more to her than she thought, and wrestles with that means for her. Jim seizes a moment of vulnerability, and uses Lila in a scheme to manipulate Billy and regain his standing with the CIA. All of this is punctuated with the traditions of Seven, and the death of the Hillsingers’ patriarch.
However, if you’re looking for a story with a nice, tidy resolution you will be a bit disappointed. The story drops off abruptly at the end of the three days. Events that have long been simmering have boiled over, but readers do not get to see them through to their due conclusions. Admittedly, the terse chapters at times seem annoying. However, this novel moves at a quick pace and is a complex and compelling read.
I usually close with a suggestion for another book you may enjoy however, this week I’m going to suggest a tv show. If you read and enjoy We Shall Not All Sleep, you may enjoy binge watching Homeland.