The Visionist by Rachel Urquhart

4 of 9
The Visionist
352 pages; Back Bay Books
Polly Kimball, a gentle 15-year-old farm girl, accidentally drops an oil lamp. Glass shatters; as flames ignite and engulf her drunken, passed-out father, she seizes an opportunity. "'Death comes easy,' said a voice inside her head, her body frozen until the time for doubting had passed." Polly runs, letting the blaze consume her monstrous abuser. In Rachel Urquhart's engrossing first novel, The Visionist, Polly's act sparks a story of guilt, greed, friendship, and fanatical piety in 19th-century Massachusetts. Tohide them from questioners after the fire, Polly's mother, May, takes her and her younger brother to a cloistered Shaker enclave, where congregants mistake Polly for a visionist who conveys divine revelations. The plot unfolds through the alternating perspectives of Polly, a Shaker girl named Sister Charity, and Simon Pryor, a fire inspector and general snoop for hire who professes to have "the keen senses of a bloodhound and the canniness of a scoundrel." While Polly is an alluring mix of contradictions—at once victim and survivor, a liar with a pure heart—Simon proves even more compelling as a romantic in cynic's clothing. When, out in "the World," May falls victim to the cruelty of a man scheming to steal the family farm, Simon's dormant heroism awakens. Like the Shakers, Simon and Polly seek redemption. And just as the demons who torment them are more human than spirit, so are the angels who can save them.
— Karen Holt