An enthralling first novel about a teenage girl who finds refuge--but perhaps not--in an 1840s Shaker community.
After 15-year-old Polly Kimball sets fire to the family farm, killing her abusive father, she and her young brother find shelter in a Massachusetts Shaker community called the City of Hope. It is the Era of Manifestations, when young girls in Shaker enclaves all across the Northeast are experiencing extraordinary mystical visions, earning them the honorific of "Visionist" and bringing renown to their settlements.
The City of Hope has not yet been blessed with a Visionist, but that changes when Polly arrives and is unexpectedly exalted. As she struggles to keep her dark secrets concealed in the face of increasing scrutiny, Polly finds herself in a life-changing friendship with a young Shaker sister named Charity, a girl who will stake everything--even her faith--on Polly's honesty and purity.
PARTICULARS OF THE BOOK :
Published by: Little, Brown & Co.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Author: Rachel Urquhart
Websites: See http://www.littlebrown.com re this author
ABOUT THE AUTHOR :
Career as a Magazine Journalist and the Debut Writer of The Visionist
Though she has split her life (and her personality) living on a farm in Massachusetts and in an apartment in New York City, Rachel Urquhart was born in Manhattan and, at the ripe old age of 40, moved to Brooklyn. Since everyone in her new neighborhood had children and dogs and held close the fantasy of someday publishing a novel, she fit right in. She was fortunate enough to begin her magazine career at Spy—a job so singular that it would prove to ruin her desire to ever want to work full-time anywhere else. Lucky for her, Vogue stepped in and saved her from herself. She has spent her entire adult life as a writer, contributing pieces and the occasional snippet of fiction to a variety of publications, including Spy, Vogue, Allure, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Tin House, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Food & Wine, Travel & Leisure, Vanity Fair, Women’s Times and The Reader. She has also written three “lifestyle” books for the ChicSimple series (Knopf), and worked as an editor, at Vogue and, more recently, in service of college-bound teenagers and people in need of a decent toast. It took an abnormally long time for her to begin—and then complete—The Visionist, her first novel, and her heart goes out to anyone who finds him or herself in a similar predicament. She received her M.F.A. in Fiction from Sarah Lawrence College, and lives with her husband, two sons, two dogs and two cats.
*Photo by Sarah Shatz
THE BOOKISH DAME REVIEWS :
In the 1990's my husband, a real estate broker, took me to a location in rural Massachusetts that had been a Shaker community. It was on a beautiful landscape of rolling hills and stream with a vast expanse of sky. The property was on the market for such a reasonable price I was shocked. The buildings left were stark and eerie in their vastness and simplicity. There was a barn and a main building. A lone sheep made its way across a narrow stream. We went into the "main" building made of weathered blue wood. It was huge and had an echoing emptiness to it. Small windows...swept, unpolished wooden floors and plain walls...a narrow staircase. The place felt haunted. It was about three stories tall, but it seemed to reach to the sky. I had a strange feeling about the whole place, as if people were watching us. Beautiful as the entire package seemed, it was ghostly.
Rachel Urquhart has written a book that has made the Shakers come alive. I've always had a fascination with them and their seemingly ethereal religious lives. They have seemed ghostly, as well, in their unattainable ways. In a lifestyle not quite Quaker and perhaps far from Amish, the Shakers seemed even more set apart to me than other splinter religions. In this novel I've had a glimpse of what their lives might have been like and it is magical in Urquhart's hands.
The storyline is rich and interesting primarily featuring Polly, a girl who has escaped an abusive father by murdering him only to find shelter with the Shakers who believe she is a "visionist," one especially selected to have spiritual insights and messages. We also follow another character's crime procedural as he ferrets out Polly's secret. And, finally, we are brought into the mind of the Shaker sister who takes Polly into her heart and takes us into the intimacy of the community. The three narrations carry the novel adding depth to the story.
Ms Urquhart is an author with strong talents. It's hard to believe this is a debut novel. Her literary voice is mature, her vision exotic and her story will touch your heart. The world of the Shakers is unveiled and the lives of her characters evolve like a well-spring.
This is one of those books you have to read this year. I can't say enough about it!
5 stars Deborah/TheBookishDame