Reviewed by Sheryl Root
A Flickering Light by Jane Kirkpatrick
"Jane’s characters are refreshingly real; flawed human beings whose journey in life is sometimes mundane, sometimes full of adventure."
In A Flickering
Kirkpatrick has once again woven a wealth of fascinating historical research
into a compelling novel, this time inspired
by the life of her grandmother. As Jane says in her author’s notes, “this
story is inspired by her because this is a work of biographical fiction,
or as a writer friend of mine, Linda Crew, calls such novels, ‘a
true story, imagined.’”
Jane’s characters are refreshingly real; flawed human beings whose journey in life is sometimes mundane, sometimes full of adventure. When we first meet fifteen-year-old Jessie Gaebele, she is sneaking out of the house with her treasure, a Kodak camera given to her by her Uncle August, to capture an early morning sunrise on the bluff. Later that day, when she and her friend Voe are hired by F. B. Bauer to be photographer’s assistants in his studio, Jessie’s dreams seem to be coming true. Even though Mr. Bauer insists on her giving up her camera during her six months of training, Jessie knows that at the end of her training and certification, she will be able to work at any photographic studio in the country. She can travel, see the world, maybe even one day have her own studio. The possibilities seem endless.
Mr. Bauer experiences periodic bouts of bad health due to mercury poisoning, a common hazard to photographers in the early days with all the toxic darkroom chemicals they worked with. Because of this, over the next few years Jessie and Zoe have occasion to run the studio on their own, often for months at a time, with only limited supervision from Mr. Bauer or his wife. As Jessie gains confidence and experience in her work, she also becomes aware of stirring feelings for her employer. And, as Mr. Bauer’s wife goes deeper into her manic depressions, pulling away not only from him, but their children as well, he finds his own feelings of respect and admiration for his young protégée turning into a strong affection.
Some readers may take offense at the fact that Jessie and Mr. Bauer, a married man, fight a developing attraction between them. I didn’t. I don’t think truth is served by covering up the temptations and weaknesses we experience in life. We are all sinners saved by grace. Pretending sinful thoughts and feelings do not exist is a lie in itself, and doesn’t reflect the light and truth of the gospel. Even when those feelings are acted on, God is there to forgive when we come to Him in repentance. I found myself empathizing with Jessie as she struggles to stay true to her own dreams while also honoring her faith, her family, and the norms of the time.
Anyone who loves historical fiction and has not read any of Jane Kirkpatrick’s novels needs to remedy that immediately. I have yet to pick one up I haven’t enjoyed immensely. This book is first in a new series, Portraits of the Heart, with the next book, An Absence So Great, just released. Evidently it’s time to make room in my reading schedule for another Jane Kirkpatrick book!