An Absence So Great by Jane Kirkpatrick – My Review

WaterBrook Press (March 16, 2010)
I first found Jane Kirkpatrick many years ago when searching the library shelves for historical fiction books about this area of the country that were “safe” reads – meaning minimal or no adult content/violence/etc. Most of them ended up being Christian Fiction as are these books but Kirkpatrick doesn’t scrub her stories to unrealistic perfectionism for the characters. In the Portraits Of the Heart series, as in her previous works, people are human. The characters’ choices are portrayed along with their consequences for the character and others their choices affect. “Safe” doesn’t mean movie poster perfect or blindingly white with goodness. People sin and that sin leaves marks on both the sinner and those touched by the choices. Kirkpatrick does a laudable job of presenting the conflicts her characters face without including unnecessary details or opening doors meant to be closed to outside audiences.

Jessie Gaebele returns in this volume after having left home to continue her work and study in photography techniques and artistry. She found a place in Milwaukee willing to take her on although temporarily as the owner’s widow intended to sell out following his loss. While in Milwaukee Jessie discovers that her mentor from Winona is still connected to her through his contributions to the family that have provided her room and board. Her host family happen to be related somewhat distantly to Bauer’s family and he keeps in touch with them not only to cover her living expenses there but to keep track of her activities. Jessie removed herself from Winona and Bauer’s business due to unprofessional interest in her that was also inappropriate according to societal standards of the day. Be sure to start with the initial volume of this series, A Flickering Light, in order to have the backstory of Jessie’s relationships and study of photography. While Jessie wants to distance herself from Bauer their paths keep crossing and he tries to get her back to Winona by touting her talents to a studio whose owner wishes to sell but he doesn’t feel a woman can or should run any business much less a photography studio. In the meantime, Jessie has found a studio in Eau Claire that puts her nearer to home and will allow her to continue saving money towards her dream of having her own studio while continuing to develop her skills and knowledge of photography.

Kirkpatrick not only brings to life the people but the towns, the era and the photography industry in it’s early stages. Her historical knowledge and detailed descriptions are the result of intensive research and study prior to writing. In Portraits Of the Heart she also has the privilege of discovering more details of her family history as the main character is drawn from an ancestor’s experiences. the story remains fictional in many aspects but the underlying realities keep the characters believable and provide a foundation of accuracy that I rarely find in historical fiction. The fictional aspects and people are clearly delineated from the start in Kirkpatrick’s tapestry of facts and story founded on stones of history and spiritual truths. The intricate intertwinings highlight the development of photography and events of Early 20th Century in America. Details threaded through these books allow readers to experience the processes of exposing plates to create glass “negatives” which become the media for prints. Film is more portable at this juncture but also requires greater care in handling due to the ruin that exposing it prematurely will create. Readers also become privy to the workings of a “darkroom” and developing prints as well as film in the early stages of photographic technology. As in many cases, there are significant dangers in this fledgling career. Mercury and Lead Poisonings are among the most prevalent risks addressed. Due to the chemicals intrinsic to the required processes of the day, many did succumb to severe illness if not death as a result of their work. Thankfully although we now have not only much safer processes and materials to work with photography remains an art form whether via digital mediums or “old fashioned” prints and exposures from physical film. The stories behind the people and places keep readers engaged by the narrative and mental conversations throughout the story while details are inserted like a nearly invisible thread of fact and authenticity tying the whole together into an intriguing history and technology lesson which become increasingly rare as those who have the life experience to relate these stories to generations who know nothing but increasingly invasive technological developments which will likely overshadow history and older technologies that have been lost to time and advancement in the last couple centuries. I must say that Jane Kirkpatrick always comes as a highly recommended read in my opinion and if you haven’t experienced her talents you should do so at your earliest convenience. While I love historical novels, photography has been something I never really explored in depth yet Kirkpatrick’s stories and characters entice me into a world that is far removed from modern mediums and processes that have become commonplace to someone born during the final decades of the 20th century. Those denizens more enmeshed in the 21st century than the numerous advances that took place during the 19th and early 20th centuries which seem to be just a part of our experience rather than so new they are barely understood much less utilized as a result of not comprehending how they function. (ISBN#9781578569816, 400pp, $14.99)

Visit Jane’s Website to learn about other historical fiction and non-fiction books she has compiled/written. Use the bookcover above for more info or to purchase a copy. Thanks to WaterBrook for a review copy.

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