Painting the Light is set on a sheep farm in Martha’s Vineyard in 1898.
Ida Russell is an artist who lives in Beacon Hill, Boston with her parents. Then her young life is beset by loss. First her father and two brothers are drowned – then her mother, overcome with grief kills herself by drowning as well. Alone, Ida is living in the house where she was raised, distraught, grieving, lonely, and vulnerable.
When… along comes Ezra Pease. With charming promises of security and affection, he marries her and moves her to his sheep farm on Martha’s Vineyard. Once ensconced on the farm, Ida realizes too late Ezra’s true colors. He has used her money from the sale of her Boston house for his own nefarious schemes. Ostensibly he works with his partner Mose in the salvage business, but he has other cards up his sleeve. He is cold and condescending to Ida and she quickly learns that marriage does not preclude loneliness. She works the sheep farm arduously – she has no more time to paint.Then, Ezra too is drowned while sailing to Boston on business. This time, Ida feels little in the way of grief. She feels unencumbered without her surly husband.
Ezra’s partner’s brother is the executor of the estates of both men. His name is Henry and he helps Ida and befriends her. A carriage maker, he introduces her to riding a bicycle, an activity she loves for its sense of freedom.
Meanwhile, Ezra’s old aunt Ruth, the actual owner of the sheep farm, is very disdainful of Ida’s newest endeavors. She does not approve of Ida’s ‘carrying on’, of her association with Henry (a married man), and her scandalous bicycle riding.
“Another memory, not even that old, but already so frayed and brittle Ida had refused to pull it out too often in case it caused an irreparable tear.”
Ida learns of Ezra’s many secrets…
Secrets and lies.
Meanwhile, there is a new movement to secure women’s rights to vote! Ida is all in favor and champions the suffragette cause.
What a marvelous story! From the first pages I was immediately living the life of the protagonist, Ida Russell. I was sharing her losses, her anger, her frustrations, and her joys. I was transported to her world.
The back-breaking work of life on a sheep farm was skillfully rendered, and the animals added greatly to my own enjoyment of the novel. I also appreciated the friendships Ida made following Ezra’s demise.
This historical novel had many serious themes such as betrayal, duplicity, loneliness, and the history of women’s rights.
I will remember “Painting the Light” for a long, long, time. Highly recommended!
Publication date: June 1, 2021 Publisher: William Morrow/HarperCollins
ISBN: 9780062916242 ASIN: B08H25G8CZ 368 pages
Sally Cabot Gunning lives in Brewster, Massachusetts, with her husband, Tom. A lifelong resident of New England, she is active in local historical organizations and creates tours that showcase the three-hundred-year history of her village. She is the author of three “Satucket novels” (The Widow’s War, Bound, and The Rebellion of Jane Clarke), as well as the historical novels Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard and Monticello.