Wednesday, April 08, 2009

A Flickering Light by Jane Kirkpatrick

rating: ***1/2

publisher: WaterBrook

Jessie Gaebele loves photography. Her mind frames potential images everywhere she looks in her Minnesota town. Jessie is fortunate enough to find a placement at FJ Bauer’s photography studio where she burgeons into a working and professional woman whose hand at portraits and talent for putting “sitting” clients at ease prove her a natural.

I enjoyed this turn- of -the -century tale about a spunky woman who has the rare chance to make something independent of her self: regardless of the social constrictions of her time and circumstance.

Kirkpatrick does a notable job of creating the dark room world of Jessie, her friend Voe and the imitable FJ Bauer. Likewise, the portraits of domesticity: whether at Jessie’s home with her stern parents and challenged brother or at the Bauer residence: which, when unveiled, is a formidable look at a crumbling marriage guised by poise and outward appearance.

I often felt I was walking down a street with Jessie, peering above the wrought iron gates to mansard roofs and wafting lace curtains to gaslights and cozy hearths. Kirkpatrick does a remarkable job of painting life as it was. In fact, as is often my highest compliment as an imaginative reader, she made me nostalgiac for a time period I never lived in.

You will recognize from previous entries that the insertion of ephemera rarely inspires me in fiction, but Kirkpatrick uses it well. As this is a fictionalized biography of her grandmother, Kirkpatrick has numerous photos Jessie took or posed for and these loan an interesting and unusual physicality to the plot. Your imagination is somewhat stopped by virtue of the fact that you know what Jessie looks like: a plain, proper, probably well-mannered woman of her time.

I very much enjoyed learning about the dissonant opinions treating photography as art and commercialism. This tied well to my previous read, Cramer’s Summer of Light.

As a Christian novel, this book is rather lightweight evangelically. Kirkpatrick is more interested in spinning the yarn of her grandmother’s youth as a developing photographer and this is not the soap box from which she will preach fire and damnation. That being said, there is a calm and subtle symbolism of light that Kirkpatrick uses deftly: especially in a sermon preached a Christmas Eve candlelight service.

At the heart of this unique romance is the attraction between the young Jessie and her employer, FJ Bauer: who is some twenty-odd years her senior.

This coming of age tale evokes the awkward emotional development of a girl who is confused by the feelings racing through her. I applaud Kirkpatrick on her ability to take the reader through the whirlwind of susceptible Jessie’s emotions ---also, through the returned infatuation of her married employer who loves his family but is starved of affection and often the slightest touch.

This was an engaging read and I look forward to reading more of the series.

1 comment:

Lynn Hajek said...