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An enthralling debut novel about a teenage girl who finds refuge but perhaps not in an 1840s Shaker communityIn this exuisite transporting debut 15 year old Polly Kimball sets fire to the family farm killing her abusive father She and her young brother find shelter in a Massachusetts Shaker community called The City of Hope It is the Era of Manifestations when young girls in Shaker enclaves all across the Northeast are experiencing extraordinary mystical visions earning them the honorific of Visionist and bringing renown to their settlements The City of Hope has not yet been blessed with a Visionist but that changes when Polly arrives and is unexpectedly exalted As she struggles to keep her dark secrets concealed in the face of increasing scrutiny Polly finds herself in a life changing friendship with a young Shaker sister named Charity a girl who will stake everything including her faith on Polly's honesty and purity

10 thoughts on “The Visionist

  1. says:

    this is a lovely and haunting novel that takes place in a shaker community in massachusetts in 1842 polly is a fifteen year old girl who has endured years of poverty and abuse at the hands of her father silas who has managed to drive their farm into the ground her younger brother ben was left developmentally damaged after silas tried to drown him when ben was just a baby and their mother is resigned to her lot having been impregnated and tricked into marriage when she was only thirteen after silas murdered her well off and good natured father in order to obtain his farm after his death the farm fell into disrepair and the family has been suffering under the drunken fists of silas ever sinceone night polly decides to take matters into her own hands and escape with her family during this escape she accidentally sets the house on fire with silas inside of ither mother rouses herself from her emotional stupor long enough to bring polly and ben to the nearby shaker community and leave them there for sanctuary before she heads off into her own uncertain future the story is told in three alternating character segments polly sister charity and simon pryor the man charged with determining the cause of the fire under the direction of a horrible man who has had a hold over him since they were both very young but as their narratives flow together circumstantial parallels emerge and common experiences of sacrifice and suffering and family bonds surface as this narrative converges into a single glowing hot pointthe shakers do not believe in the value of family ties in the shaker belief all members forge one large family of faith which transcends biology the sexes are separated so when polly and ben are brought to the community they are immediately separated and are not allowed to interact because males and females do not mingle to prevent unseemly indiscretionsfor polly this is unacceptable because she has taken a maternal role towards ben ever since the incident that left him or less dependent upon her and her mother in nearly all aspects of his life she submits to her new surroundings because she has to but she tries to make opportunities to see ben despite the scrutiny this places her under in the eyes of the believersthis scrutiny only intensifies once polly begins to experience episodes that the shakers interpret as those of a visionist; one who has a direct link to the holy mother and reveals her holy messages in mystical fits when her father began to come to her in the night polly coped by going away inside her head and being comforted by visions of angels and these dissociative episodes manifest once when she is provoked in the shaker community most of the shakers begin to revere her but there are some who have doubts that her behavior is that of a true visionist and are jealous of her apparent favorsister charity however befriends polly she herself has been inexplicably marked with a sudden skin condition that has also been interpreted in a number of ways the result of which has left her largely isolated within the community sister charity is a true believer and she trusts in polly unconditionally and becomes an ally during polly's rough transition to the cloistered lifethe shakers are of course known for their modesty simplicity and austerity but to polly coming from a situation where she was cold hungry and abused the shaker community is actually an improvement in her living conditions which is one of those funny sad ironies i don't think anyone except polly's mother ever left the community better dressed than when they arrivedand despite entering the fold with less physical purity than the believers polly seems to have a mind that is innocent when you prove yourself a good believer you shall have your own set of clothes made for you and no one else Why the sisters will even make you a cap for you are comely and of an age when your hair and the nape of your neck could distract the brethrenPolly put her hand to her head How strange these Shakers were Did they not have to concern them than the attraction between a boy and a girl? She had never before given a single thought to her hair or the nape of her neck No one where she came from ever so much as glanced her wayher life has not allowed for the luxury of flirtation or romantic prospects and what her father has put her through has cauterized any lustful inclinations her day to day before this had been about survival and the nape of her neck was the least of her concernsit is all about perspectivewhile simon begins to explore the origins of the fire and becomes obsessed with her family unexpected difficulties begin to threaten polly's acceptance within the community and the narrative drives towards a conclusion that will leave every character changed this is an enveloping story of the foundations and limitations of faith and characters who realize that they have sacrificed everything at the altar of a God intent on convincing us that we must pay for our alleged sins by depriving ourselves of the one thing that might save us love and women broken by the toil of their difficult lives toil that brought the years on fast for women the world over and it is these character parallels that i responded to the most; how there are commonalities in unexpected places and i really felt for each of them and their respective burdensthis review is probably too long and tedious but the book is really lovely and a fine piece of historical fictioncome to my blog

  2. says:

    HahahaThis is another Aw shit productionI love HachetteSo this wasn't the story for meI think all the things I was supposed to get from it I missed I got a lot of other things insteadThe story is ok though I never bought into it which is probably why I didn't enjoy it as much as others have I think I was expecting The Scarlet Letter and less melodramaFor me this was tale made of throwing the following into a blender and then hitting the FRAPPE buttonPolly who flees the farm with her mother and brother to live amongst PLUSCharity whose story looks like this PLUSSimon though not as smart only as arrogantHis story looks like this PLUS PLUSBuffonish bullying boor of a bad guy who is described as dressing foppishly than one would expect for the 1840's He probably should have been described as a dandy right? Well whatever And the disapproving Shaker eldress Mix those all together and that's what the story looked like to me

  3. says:

    I expected to be put off by Uruhat’s portrayal of the Shakers during the Era of Manifestations but in general she did a good job with the scenes set in a fictional Shaker village The the main plot however about characters scheming to grab land was awkward repetitiveand uninterestingUruhat's portrait of the Shaker Eldress was complex and insightful not only did she see into the souls of her charges but she was a pragmatist who believed it was her religious duty to increase the community’s prosperityEspecially memorable are scenes of the Midnight Cry and the messages on hearts given to each Believer and the scene where Charity attempts to dance the “Narrow Path” However her tendency to barely change names of historical persons and places was annoying for example the Shaker artist “Polly Ann Reed” becomes “Cora Ann Reed” But my main uibble about the Shaker content was that a reader might be led to think that the only reason women joined the Society of Believers was because they had been abandoned or abused not from genuine religious conversion Uruhat doesn’t uestion the fact that Polly really had visions but these were the result of learning to separate her mind from her body when being sexually abused There were some things that I did not find believable Would Polly an uneducated girl of 15 who has been sexually abused since the age of 10 be so composed articulate and self reflective? I doubt that the Shakers would allow two teenage girls to room together especially since Polly had not confessed She would have likely been placed in a room with several sisters at least one of whom was older to watch over her Still the relationship between Polly and Charity was well done But to end the book with Simon Pryor falling in love with Polly that was than I could stomach

  4. says:

    In 1842 in a Shaker community in Massachusetts Polly and her brother Ben are brought there by their mother who then leaves Polly and her family had suffered mightily at the hands of their abusive father I knew very little about this religion and the novel does a wonderful job describing their beliefs men and woman live apart no carnal knowledge allowedtheir clothing their food and the jobs they do to keep the community running Sister Charity is the one assigned to show and teach Polly what she needs to know about this community Polly soon assumes an important part as she see and feels angels she becomes a revered VisionistOf course she has left behind a big secret and Pryor a man is investigating a crime that she and her family are trying to escape So much of this novel was entertaining but I never felt that I really got to know the girls did not feel close to them although I did like bothAlso the story never raised its tone it basically stayed the same even when Pryor was closing in on the truth and Polly's baptism as a Visionist drew attention to the community than she wanted Interesting book and a good look at a little known religion

  5. says:

    I've finally finished Most people will know I've struggled through this one I'm not sure why the story itself was ok It was very descriptive which I do tend to like but it on this occasion I found it distracting from the story and also the issues such as sin forgiveness which weren't deeply explored Starting from a point of knowing the story before the investigator trying to uncover it was frustrating and I struggled to warn to any of the characters

  6. says:

    Shakers the Shaking uakers because of their ecstatic behavior during worship services a lesser known branch off though very intriguing as far as religious sects go Nearly cult like in its aspectsdenying family bonds taking over all material possessions seclusion from the world From the downright silly cutting food into suares instead of triangles bowlcuts for men to WTF no inside pets to downright self exterminating no sex this wasn't a situation build to last And in fact it didn't it died out according to Wikipedia there's only one surviving Shaker village left And yet there's also something to be said for the fact that Shakers gave leadership roles to women at the time when no one did some still struggle with that recent study places US at #104 worldwide for the number of women in the government 104 well under many third world countries even when being a woman was a now unthinkable tribulation In fact so much so that joining Shakers was actually a viable option to a life of privation and spousal abuse and sex mustn't have been that difficult to give up when it was very likely to end in death in childbirth And so it is into Shaker's community that a much abused wife takes her two children after fleeing her home and her violent sorry excuse of a husband Turns out that the land they fled actually has some worth an investigator gets involved and so the plot is set into motion The narrative follows Polly the woman's daughter Sister Charity the young Shaker who befriends her and Simon Pryor the investigator To her credit Uruhart manages to give her protagonists singular voices and personalities so that the reader gets a well rounded perspective Polly looking for peace and hope in the appropriately named City of Hope Sister Charity looking for the purest embodiment of her faith The Visionist Polly is taken for one upon arrival Simon looking for truth but also undergoing a personal redemptive journey This is a fairly straight forward story with the profoundly complex characters An exploration of faith friendship and love Uruhart's language has a dreamlike uality almost hypnotic her sentences are a thing of beauty The novel is a slow read and was probably meant as such but it is compelling and most auspicious for a debut novel albeit one that took ten years to get out and so had plenty of time to bake to near perfection Enjoyable read interesting enlightening Works both as a drama and as a work of historical fiction Recommended

  7. says:

    In the 1990's my husband a real estate broker took me to a location in rural Massachusetts that had been a Shaker community It was on a beautiful landscape of rolling hills and stream with a vast expanse of sky The property was on the market for such a reasonable price I was shocked The buildings left were stark and eerie in their vastness and simplicity There was a barn and a main building A lone sheep made its way across a narrow stream We went into the main building made of weathered blue wood It was huge and had an echoing emptiness to it Small windowsswept unpolished wooden floors and plain wallsa narrow staircase The place felt haunted It was about three stories tall but it seemed to reach to the sky I had a strange feeling about the whole place as if people were watching us Beautiful as the entire package seemed it was ghostlyRachel Uruhart has written a book that has made the Shakers come alive I've always had a fascination with them and their seemingly ethereal religious lives They have seemed ghostly as well in their unattainable ways In a lifestyle not uite uaker and perhaps far from Amish the Shakers seemed even set apart to me than other splinter religions In this novel I've had a glimpse of what their lives might have been like and it is magical in Uruhart's handsThe storyline is rich and interesting primarily featuring Polly a girl who has escaped an abusive father by murdering him only to find shelter with the Shakers who believe she is a visionist one especially selected to have spiritual insights and messages We also follow another character's crime procedural as he ferrets out Polly's secret And finally we are brought into the mind of the Shaker sister who takes Polly into her heart and takes us into the intimacy of the community The three narrations carry the novel adding depth to the storyMs Uruhart is an author with strong talents It's hard to believe this is a debut novel Her literary voice is mature her vision exotic and her story will touch your heart The world of the Shakers is unveiled and the lives of her characters evolve like a well springThis is one of those books you have to read this year I can't say enough about it5 stars DeborahTheBookishDame

  8. says:

    This was not an easy read Though I got the gist of the story in the end I'm left with a hazy impression of its conclusion The climax was leading towards a happy reunion of the Kimball family and a satisfying defeat of the greedy land grabbers in play I was waiting for the in your face moment when Sister Agnes realizes she went after the wrong sibling to secure her end; a vindication of Polly in Charity's eyes; and satisfaction for Simon who was unhappy with his forced walk on the unsavory side of justice I got none of these No Kimball happy reunion No satisfying defeat of the villains in the story No vindication for Polly or Simon I'm not even sure if the rightful owner of the Kimball farm was ever revealed by Simon or Tsak or the that May was ever informed that Benjamin's birth was documented by Peeles Instead we are slapped with an ill fitted foreshadowing of an unexpected creepy and one sided romance Ugh The most interesting thing about the book was the setting and the promise of a great thriller that unfortunately for me did not fulfill its charge 3 stars for the mere fact that it had me going for a moment

  9. says:

    Rachel Uruhart’s beautifully written debut novel is set in 1842 in a Massachusetts Shaker community called the City of Hope The story is told through the eyes of its three main characters Polly is a fifteen year old girl who has fled a life of abuse and degradation She finds refuge acceptance and friendship in the Shaker community Sister Charity is a devoted Shaker who has lived in the City of Hope since she was left there as a baby Her unfailing faith and her friendship with Polly are tested when a hidden secret comes to light Simon Pryor is an arson investigator who must try to interview Polly to determine her involvement in a crime Simon's young life holds many secrets of its ownTheir lives become intertwined in an unforgettable story of fanatical faith greed mystery resilience rebirth and hope Ms Uruhart’s extensive research into the Shaker culture adds immensely to this story

  10. says:

    Reminds me what a joy it is to read a GOOD first novel Here's my review for NPR