Where the Light Falls. Katherine Keenum. Penguin Group (USA). February 2013. 480 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780425257784.
Jeannette Palmer is studying art at Vassar College. She’s a bright, promising student who suddenly because of a ill-planned adventure to help a friend elope is expelled from Vassar. This is 1877, the dawn of the Belle Epoque, a daring, freeing time but not so free yet that such a scandal does not bring ruin to Jeannette and her family’s reputation. To say they are appalled would be the understatement of all time. What are they to do and where shall she be accepted now. It is her spinster cousin, Effie, who suggests that Jeannette should study art in Paris, France, a plan that will transform both of their lives in the most pleasurable way possible!
This is a marvelous journey for both of these cousins and the reader alike. Paris where the finest new artists earn their acceptance through the famous Salon judgments on a year-to-year basis. Jeannette will later meet many of the most famous artists at the time or at least be exposed to their innovative and provocative paintings and sculptures. For acceptable form is the norm and deviation from same could win one fame or ruin within days if not weeks and months. Yet as Jeannette begins her drawing classes and later progresses to painting in oils, we share her learning of how to create line, form, movement, light, shadow and so much more. At a certain point, the reader almost holds one’s breath as Jeannette strives to find what will be her unique artistic mark, the expression of the moods, tones, and hidden words spoken in now empty, silent rooms. Rather than being tedious, the author conveys the mystery and magic of it all.
Edward Murer is the other main character, a survivor of the Civil War who was wounded and kept as a prisoner of war. His addiction to laudanum for physical and emotional pain is an issue that appears and disappears in unexpected cycles. As a war veteran, he is painfully sensitive to the essence of men and women, seeing beyond the facades and yearning to remain aloof from all that is false and devious. No, he doesn’t immediately fall head over heels with Jeannette but instead very, very slowly develops an interest with her and her artistic friends and social acquaintances.
There is where we meet many characters who overcome formidable challenges on every possible sphere – and those who don’t – Paris is really no different than anywhere else! It is, however, the artistic and cultural center of a very specific historical time known as the Belle Epoque and Katherine Keenum renders a depiction of that time with panache that is delectable to experience! A superb work of historical fiction that should be a best seller and would make a grand movie or Broadway show!