Hey y’all! I hope you have had a good week. Mine has been mostly enjoyable, except for being slammed with allergies the past few days. Yay, spring. Anyways, I have an interesting review today. The Persistence of Vision by Lisa Gery is one of the most unique historical fiction books I have ever read. Scroll on to see why!
Title: The Persistence of Vision
Author: Lisa Gery
Genre: Historical Fiction (early 1900s)
Synopsis: In the sweltering summer of 1908 the people of Evansville are abuzz over the construction of the town’s first cinema, the Walt Theater. Annie Bartolet is witnessing the Walt’s progress firsthand, married to the project’s construction manager, Henry. As young parents, they are struggling to adapt to parenthood, and the changes in their own relationship. When Henry’s unemployed cousin Daniel comes to stay with them – a teenager on the cusp of adulthood with a past shrouded in vague secrecy – it places a new strain on an already complicated marriage.
Seemingly insignificant, the motivations and decisions of this struggling family converge to set in motion a chain of events that lead to a disaster that will devastate the town – a horrific fire at the Walt Theater on opening night that reduces the town’s cherished jewel to ashes. In the aftermath of the tragedy, they must all confront the roles they played and the ramifications they face as they endeavor to find a way forward.
Content/topics to be aware of: On-screen (page?) death, mentions of sex (nothing explicit or detailed), psychological trauma, semi-detailed (not gruesome) injuries
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ecopy of this book from the author and have happily provided this honest review.
Oh, boy. This book is quite the ride. The Persistence of Vision evokes a wide range of emotions and incorporates multiple worldviews into a coherent yet surprising narrative. I finished this book close to two weeks ago, and I had to let it sit in the back of my mind for a while in order to process it and figure out what to say in this review.
The protagonist, Annie, is an extremely complex character. She is lifelike in her struggles, dreams, and attitude – which is ironic in a book that is so focused on death and the meaning of life. From the first page, she is dealing with what appears to be long-lasting post-partum depression (although this is not directly stated). Her relationship with many of her family members is tense and uncomfortable, and she is desperately lonely. Still, she does her best to do what her family needs and wants.
The story of the theatre is revealed slowly throughout the book. Its construction and subsequent demise form the backdrop for many ethical discussions. The fire which destroys the building in a way also destroys the town; in the aftermath we witness life’s unfairness as some people and places are able to heal, and some must simply move on.
It is difficult to talk much about the second half of the book and the way all of the various themes converge into one answer to the question “how should I live?” without giving away a major spoiler. I have debated with myself for days as to whether or not I should include this, and I have decided that discovering it on your own is central to enjoying and digesting the book properly. So, if you do read the book, let me know so we can talk about what is revealed!
While I am sympathetic to Annie, there are a few things about the book which thoroughly disturb me, including some of her actions and decisions. For anyone looking for a book with a Christian worldview (which I know is a priority for many of my readers), you won’t find it here. Nothing about this book ever attempts to claim this, but because of my audience I feel it necessary to articulate. That alone should not make you rule out reading this book – but you should be prepared for what you’re choosing to read. My biggest issue is actually not any person’s actions, but the way that death is portrayed. Life is shown with all of the dirt and difficulties that we know exist, but when death comes into play, it is surprisingly sanitized. I was shocked by how inconsequential it was to the story as a whole. Those who are still alive are shown reacting to the news that someone has died, but for those who experience death and continue to play a role in the story, the effects of dying did not seem adequately extensive. I recognize that it is unreasonable to expect or want every story to portray my own perspective on something so enigmatic as death, however, I just couldn’t get behind this.
There are a lot of interesting aspects to The Persistence of Vision. The author delves into themes such as mental health at the turn of the century, family dynamics, and personal identity against the unique backdrop of a theatre being built. Everyone is struggling to do the right thing, but no one seems able to figure out what the right thing is. In the end, this book is not really my cup of tea, but I applaud the author for putting together a coherent story examining life and the ways that things can go wrong even with the best intentions.
Until the next chapter,