The Visionist-Rachel Urquhart
Set during the era of Mother Ann's work, a young woman finds a place among the Shakers but when the other young girls begin to see visions, things unravel.
I don't actually know that much about the Shakers. Like many others I suspect, I primarily knew of them through their furniture and as an attempt at a model Utopia. Urquhart, however, does know a lot about them and her research is visible through the novel but in a non-showy way. Instead, her research simply sets the stage for the plot. The plot itself seems to explore primarily the concept of 'The Way'. By integrating her outsider, Polly, into this strict society, Urquhart shows how multiple aspects of the community serve both material motives (the cynics amongst us are not surprised) and spiritual motives. But interestingly, through Charity, Urquhart also offers a variety of views within the Shaker community thus adding nuance and depth to the more typical depictions of closed communities. I really enjoyed Urquhart's view of the Shakers-not idealistic but also not entirely cynical. I, however, probably enjoyed even more the outside world of New England with the fire inspector Pryor who is neither villain or hero but something of both. Pryor in his plotline really drives the book forward showing the passing of time that a novel focused on the Shakers probably would have lacked (as it was, sometimes the monotony of the community dragged the book down). I spent my time rooting for Polly but as a character she actually grew the least-I'd say Charity developed more with time. Nevertheless, all of the characters in the novel grew and changed believably which is a major strength.