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‘We Are The Light’ Review: An Empathetic Dive into the Human Psyche and the Process of Healing Through Art

4.5 Stars

The cover of Matthew Quick's "We Are the Light."
The cover of Matthew Quick's "We Are the Light." By Courtesy of Simon and Schuster
By Mikel J. Davies, Crimson Staff Writer

Matthew Quick’s “We Are The Light” follows the town of Majestic, PA through the eyes of an uneasy man at the center of tragedy, Lucas Goodgame. Following a mass shooting at the town’s theater, the town must either band together to heal or let itself be torn apart. Quick’s perspective on the human condition at its most vulnerable could have easily degraded hope rather than emboldened it. Luckily, with an impressive publication list, including the Oscar-winning film adaptation of his previous work “The Silver Linings Playbook,” Quick is no stranger to unpacking difficult emotions and relaying them beautifully in text. “We Are The Light” tugs at heartstrings, but keeps readers engaged with unique prose, impressive character portrayals, and honest human fallibility.

The structure and style of “We Are The Light” deserves attention because of Quick’s unique approach to relaying the all-too-common story of small town heartbreak and mass shootings. Rather than present the story in a linear fashion, Quick narrates the entirety of the story through the rambling letters of Lucas to his Jungian analyst Karl Johnson. Lucas is a former high school school counselor, now out of work following the recent tragedy. The people of Majestic see Lucas as the hero who saved lives, while at the same time, he only sees himself as a heartbroken monster. With the support of his wife Darcy in angelic form and the guidance of Karl, Lucas attempts to grapple with intense grief, depression, hallucination, and paranoia.

Perfectly capturing the maze of human emotions and triggers to bygone traumas, Lucas’s letters to Karl, which comprise the novel, slowly reveal the nature of his own neuroses and the town’s tragedy. By forcing the reader to tease apart the story piece by piece and retroactively connect the dots, Quick encourages cathartic personal reflection. In the foreword of the book, Quick speaks about the goal of “We Are The Light;” he aims to show that even in life’s darkest moments, we are capable of love and forging human connection, and that regardless of the content of our character, we will fail. His imperative is that people simply cannot let failures color their lives. With the simple act of forcing contemplation through creative storytelling, the letters of Lucas Goodgame quickly transform from mere marks on a page into the intimate portrayal of someone looking for love and help.

Through this winding and weaving through the psyche of a broken man, Quick uses Lucas to demonstrate the faults human beings necessarily possess, revealing that we are not perfect people with the ability to quickly overcome tragedy. Quick’s selection of a mass shooting at a beloved small-town cinema was an appropriate — albeit incredibly difficult — topic to explore this side of human nature. With increases in mass shootings around the U.S. at ever increasing rates, addressing the issue of healing following the events is highly relevant.

In Quick’s eyes, a powerful way to deal with tragedy is through the therapeutic nature of art. The kind of story Quick presents serves an integral role in helping to heal not just the fictional wounds of the characters, but the very real wounds in shared communities around the world. The characters themselves mourn in many disparate ways, but their catharsis is art, making a movie as a community to reclaim the space at the theater stolen by a broken man.

The characters of “We Are The Light” fight to find a balance in the dichotomy of hope and hopelessness. As a deeply broken man himself, Lucas is, in many ways, the perfect protagonist for a story focused on the idea of human imperfection. He himself saves many lives the night of the disaster, but still loses his wife and even forgets to take care of himself. All of the characters, whether survivors or victims, have names, stories, and now forever-changed lives of which the reader only glimpses in the 18 letters which comprise this novel. In these perfectly imperfect glimpses into the complexities of human existence at the time of tragedy, Quick shows the glimmers of hope that are always present, however small they may be. This clash between an outward projection of hope and an inward sense of hopelessness is the precarious balance “We Are The Light” masterfully tells throughout its story.

“We Are The Light” is a difficult book to read because of its subject matter, but Matthew Quick uses that discomfort to push for contemplation in his readers. “We Are The Light” is well worth the read as the perfect example of the shared human condition today. Quick’s message is simple at its center: We encounter hardship, but it is imperative that we strive to “make meaning out of that pain.”


— Staff writer Mikel J. Davies can be reached at mikel.davies@thecrimson.com.

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