Sunday, March 28, 2010

An Absence So Great by Jane Kirkpatrick

book cover

An Absence So Great
by Jane Kirkpatrick

Trade Paperback: 386 pages
Publisher: Waterbrook Press
First Released: 2010

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Source: This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

Book Description (my take):
When Jessie Gaebele was fifteen, she became an assistant to a photographer to learn the trade and help while the owner was sick with mercury poisoning. Her employer and teacher, Fred, was forty-one years-old, married, and had kids. His wife (also a Jessie) had emotionally withdrawn from him and wouldn't forgive him for the death of their four-year-old son, so he started bonding to young Jessie instead.

Jessie's now eighteen, and she's fled to another state to get away from the temptations that Fred poses. Her family is disgusted with her for loving a married man, and she berates herself for every mistake she makes while learning to live out from under their guidance. She works long hours to save up for her dream--her own photographic studio--and to forget Fred. But forgetting Fred isn't possible when he keeps turning up and constantly tries to secretly support her financially. Will she ever attain her dream of having her own studio near her family when it means Fred will also be nearby, refusing to leave her alone?

An Absence So Great is a novel about honestly viewing your choices, accepting forgiveness, and finding healing.

An Absence So Great is a historical set in the 1910's in the northern Midwest of America. Though fiction, the novel was based off the story of the author's own grandparents. This was the second book about Jessie and Fred, and I haven't read the first one. You don't need to read the first book to understand this one, but I suspect it'd be better to start there if you're interested in this story.

I found much of this novel creepy and depressing. The characters were very realistic and had realistic struggles. But Fred was obsessed with Jessie (to the point he was almost stalking her at times) and she believed that this forbidden relationship must be true love because he was the only one who said anything encouraging to her. It wasn't a healthy relationship. It was depressing because the main characters (Fred and both Jessies) where so guilt-ridden and lonely. Jessie was constantly putting herself down, which wasn't surprising because her family was so prideful, unforgiving, and spiteful toward her. Yet she still viewed them as loving and supportive (even though they disapproved of everything she did). She also didn't seem to learn from her 'this isn't a good idea, but I'll do it anyway' mistakes for most of the novel, which stalled the forward momentum of the story.

The novel was somewhat slower paced since "waiting" was the main thing happening. The author obviously deeply researched the time period. We're constantly told what's going on at that time, the changing fashions, etc. There's less detail about the actual photographic process of the time. Most of the detail was worked in as part of the story, but at times it did intrude on rather than flow naturally as part of the story.

While there were a lot of good "realizations" by the characters, I don't agree with some of them (including a few that were implied). I don't agree that love is the same thing as a physical desire for someone, that romantic love lastingly fills a person's feeling of emptiness or loneliness, or that some loves can't be "gotten over" despite long absences and the effort to forget and move on. Also, while self-pity is unproductive, it isn't actually listed as a sin in the Bible. And accidents and poor choices aren't automatically a sin and shouldn't be considered equal to deliberately choosing to go against something God specifically said not to do.

The religious elements were mostly shown by actions rather than statements about God. Jessie's family were extremely legalistic Christians, a family she worked for believed in faith healing, and other Christian characters added a bit of forgiveness and grace to the picture. But the characters weren't preachy.

There was no sex or bad language, so the novel was clean reading.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, four months earlier

JESSIE GAEBELE’S THOUGHTS AT TIMES behaved like a toddler’s: one moment they stayed safely hidden in the pump organ’s shadow, and the next minute they popped up to pull out all the stops, increasing in volume, shouting in her head, underscoring the aching loneliness that defined her days.

Today, as she stood in this men’s refuge permeated by the scent of oil and grease and gasoline, she flicked away those toddler voices. She had good reasons to be here. She was eighteen years old, it was 1910, and young women alone were going places they’d never gone before. She didn’t need to be embarrassed or afraid. Why had she come to Milwaukee if not to prove to herself and others that she could make wise choices and pursue a dream? One day she’d have her own photographic studio back in Winona, Minnesota, where her family lived. Her future beckoned, but she would return only when she’d proven to herself that she was in control of her heart.

“It might be best if you had your father look at it, Fräulein,” the proprietor cautioned.

“I’m not purchasing it for my father,” Jessie told him, a man her father’s age she guessed.

“Ach, I’m sorry. You look so young. Your husband then.”

Jessie took a deep breath. “It’s for my own use.”

The proprietor’s eyes widened. “Ah, well, do you have”—he looked over her small frame—“the stamina to make such a purchase? Riding an Emblem’s not like riding a bicycle or a horse, if you know what I mean.”

She didn’t know how to ride an Emblem or a Pierce or any other kind of motorcycle. She didn’t know where she’d learn or practice, or where she’d keep it once she figured out a way to afford the gas.

Read more of chapter one.

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