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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 699

Originally conceived of as Death and the Lover, the title Children of Light is uttered by Lee Verger to refer to herself and her lover, Gordon Walker. Verger is an actress of unfulfilled promise whose incredible presence and intensity are enhanced by her “dark, blue saintly . . ....

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Originally conceived of as Death and the Lover, the title Children of Light is uttered by Lee Verger to refer to herself and her lover, Gordon Walker. Verger is an actress of unfulfilled promise whose incredible presence and intensity are enhanced by her “dark, blue saintly . . . secret eyes.” She and Walker are the filmgoing generation, sitting in darkness, high on cocaine or ecstacy, staring at a lighted screen, which becomes their only reality. Walker, once a Shakespearean actor, now a Hollywood writer, writes a screenplay of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening (1899) and, after his wife’s desertion, goes to Bahia Honda, Mexico, to see it in production.

His real interest, however, is seeing his old flame, Lee Verger. Verger, in turn, projected by her screen role into the marital and personal conflicts of Chopin’s Creole character Edna Pontellier, acts out that talented woman’s terrible stress as her own reality, giving up her medical treatment because it interferes with her acting; driving away her psychiatrist husband with her schizoid projects; puzzling over the trauma, inner conflicts, and turmoil that would lead the fictive character to suicide; and merging with that character as she reenacts the suicide/drowning, first for the camera and then in private for herself and her lover. The image is like that of Plato’s cave allegory: The reality is elsewhere; the shadows on the screen are but projections of light, distorted and fake.

As children of light, Verger and Gordon cannot distinguish between true relationships and those projected in their art. The film world around them is a schizophrenic one of pretense, masks, and lies. Walker, the nihilist, remembers his role of King Lear as the most intense and meaningful time of his life, for he could lose himself in the mad king’s vision of reality, rave against the elements, and triumph on stage. Verger, an idealist at heart, turns back to her role of Rosalind as the projected image that best captures what she would like to be but is not.

Unlike those roles, in which the microcosm of the stage provided a philosophy and a solid base for understanding character and act, the “real” Walker and Verger have lost touch with their inner realities and have buried themselves in drugs, fantasies, sex, and a wealthy lifestyle that leaves them restless, unhappy, and unfulfilled. Alienated from their marital partners, their children, and their art, they have for too long sought escape in cocaine and alcohol, and their bodies and minds bear too heavily the weight of this bitter solace.

Verger’s smile quivers “between drollery and madness” as she faces the emptiness and degradation of Hollywood success and struggles to please director, producer, and press and to deal with sexual advances, blackmail, and threats, while attempting to make this one film her triumph over the mundane and the vulgar. For Walker, recapturing his bittersweet past romance with Verger and reenacting the days when they were young and fearless together can help him recapture a sense of who he was and what he can still be. When the couple escape to the distant mountain retreat of their past, their would-be religious epiphany (complete with storm, stigmata, and Gadarene swine) turns to muck.

Verger, like the mad Ophelia, understands the degree of her alienation from Walker, but she is no longer able to cope with the harshness of that reality and yields to her “immortal longings.” She is a broken person for whom nothing remains. Walker, in contrast, ever the survivor—no matter the cost—asserts that living is better than dying and so returns to family, home, and shoddy career. A woman, echoing Shakespeare’s Viola, has the final say: “Men have died from time to time and worms have eaten them, but not for love.”

Stone denies that this novel is an attack on filmmaking per se and argues instead that it is a political study of how the United States works, with Hollywood’s pretenses and self-delusions merely reflecting the larger dishonesty of American culture. Its examination of the onset of schizophrenia is unquestionably a coming to terms through art with his own devastating childhood experiences with his mother’s pathology.

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