THE EFFECTS OF LIGHT by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore


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A thought-provoking debut about a young woman attempting to untangle a tortured and confused past.

After living under a false name and identity for 20 years, East Coast academic Myla Wolfe returns to her childhood home in the Pacific Northwest to face her demons: the memories surrounding a controversial exhibition of photographs featuring herself and her late sister in various stages of undress and/or nude, taken when they were children. The result was a barrage of humiliating attention and the death of the sister, although not until the very end is the connection between the photos and the death made clear. Were the pictures art? Pornography? Clearly, the photographer believed they were art, as did the girls’ father, an art history professor profoundly committed to freedom of expression and the notion of relativism—the idea that there are multiple and equally valid interpretations to virtually everything, especially works of art. Still, Myla believes her father, now long dead, betrayed them by allowing the photographs to be taken, unwittingly using his daughters as pawns to reflect his cultural politics. In addition to grappling with a boyfriend, another academic who has his own agenda in connection with the photographs, Myla begins sorting through her father’s papers in an effort to understand him. And in the end, she buys into his thesis that things are always more complicated than they seem, accepting the idea, offered by a family friend, that her father allowed the pictures to be shot for personal, not cultural, reasons having to do with his late wife. This revelation, like many others, comes out of thin air.

Entertaining but schematic, with characters’ motivations often so unexpected as to be nearly implausible.

Pub Date: Feb. 2nd, 2005
ISBN: 0-446-53329-7
Page count: 354pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2004


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