July 2024

The Same Bright Stars

By Ethan Joella
In Ethan Joella’s gentle third novel, Jack Schmidt must weigh a lucrative offer to purchase the family business, a popular restaurant on the beachfront of Rehoboth Beach, against his uncertainty about the future and his loyalty to his staff.
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Set in the Delaware coastal town where he lives, Ethan Joella’s third novel, The Same Bright Stars, is a gentle story of one man’s attempt to come to terms with his past and his present as he confronts the challenges of middle age.

For nearly 70 years, the Schmidt family—Jack Schmidt and before him, his grandmother and father—has operated a popular restaurant on the beachfront of Rehoboth Beach, the “Nation’s Summer Capital.” Now, as Jack, a bachelor whose entire life for more than 30 years has been devoted to that family business, approaches his 53rd birthday, he must weigh whether or not to accept an offer from DelDine, an aggressive chain that owns several restaurants along the shore, to purchase his business and allow him to retire with financial security, if not true purpose.

Following his protagonist from the eve of Thanksgiving to the following autumn, Joella unobtrusively produces a sympathetic portrait of a man who “hasn’t let himself do anything,” but is ambivalent about trading the only life he’s known for a new, uncertain future. His feelings about a possible sale are complicated by intense loyalty to his staff, some of whom have worked for the restaurant for decades, especially Genevieve, a longtime employee approaching retirement who’s facing a crisis involving her drug-addicted son.

Just as insistently, Jack can’t free himself from the tug of his past. He’s never fully recovered from the loss of his mother when he was 12 years old, and when Kitty, a former romantic partner, returns to town after her divorce to care for her dying mother, his feelings for her are rekindled. But those aren’t the only echoes of Jack’s personal history, and he unexpectedly learns something about a summer romance from his college days that threatens to upend his entire understanding of who he is and how his life has played out.

While The Same Bright Stars is unapologetically realistic in its content and style, and conventional in its structure, Joella adroitly delivers plausible plot twists that evoke empathy for his characters and maintain the story’s momentum to the end. Readers who prefer their fiction mellow and just a touch sentimental will savor the hours they spend in the company of Jack Schmidt and his friends. 

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The Same Bright Stars

The Same Bright Stars

By Ethan Joella
ISBN 9781668024607

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