Monday, August 31, 2015

Imaginary Brightness: A Durant Family Saga by Sheila Myers


Set in the 1870s, the dawn of the Gilded Age, and while the American economy is reeling from over-speculation in railroads, the Durant family saga re-imagines the life story of William West Durant and his sister Ella, the children of a powerful American industrialist and railroad tycoon. 

William and Ella find their fortunes and reputations threatened by their father’s questionable business dealings as head of the Union Pacific Railroad. As the family's finances teeter on the brink of bankruptcy, both brother and sister are whisked from their privileged lifestyle in high society London to the untamed Adirondack forests.  It is in this wilderness landscape that the tension between passion and propriety, their future and their family, turn their worlds upside down. Imaginary Brightness explores the early conquest of the great north woods, eavesdrops on America’s robber barons from the supper clubs of Manhattan, and unravels the mystery of William West Durant’s secret passions and conflicting loyalties.

Reviewer: Linda Fagioli-Katsiotas
Author of

This book is so full of tasty tidbits; I don’t know where to start. It’s an historical fiction in which the author adeptly juxtaposes two very interesting tales. In one, she shows the saga of Thomas Durant’s children, Ella and William, as their father unscrupulously uses the land in the Adirondack Mountains of New York during the late 1800s to amass the family wealth. The other is a modern love story, more than a hundred years later, between twenty-eight-year-old researcher, Avery, studying the habits of the owl in that same area and Jake, an inhabitant of the area. 

Both accounts as Myers switches between present and past, keep the reader riveted to the pages. I love how Meyers uses the owl research to symbolize Avery’s relationship with Jake, specifically the one male owl that she seems unable to catch and tag. A more overt example is when Avery responds to a question about her research by saying, “I’m trying to discover why males of the species are so hard to track.” Also, within the 1800s account, there is the underlying theme of profit versus preservation as Myers' characters describe Durant’s intentions by saying that he is going to “rape the Adirondack wilderness and bring crystal and fine china to the woods,” while at the same time, the government is being lobbied by others to preserve that land, and Myers interjects with the timeless frustration of people against power: “the unappreciative idiots in Albany have no idea . . . of the vast resources this region has to offer. ”

Myers also cleverly but subtly shows the clash of culture between the natives of the region and the aristocracy that will vacation there. In one example, William stops local boys from hunting in a way that he feels is unfair to the game and berates them asking what kind of sport would allow the game to be so unfairly challenged. The local boy responds, “ We ain’t doing it for sport sir. We’re doing it to feed our family.”

In addition to a wonderful story that keeps the reader engaged and unable to put the book down, Myers has some very nice imagery, such as “the sleigh slogged along, crushing the snow with a sound like thousands of eggshells breaking in its wake.”

The only complaint I have—and it’s a small one—is that the mystery behind the old diary belonging to someone named Minnie, that Avery finds and strings the reader along with its writer’s excerpts, is resolved too fast and simplistically. I wanted Minnie to have some kind of meaningful self-discovery. However, the overall story is very good and I recommend it wholeheartedly. It is a tale in which you will find yourself gasping in alarm at the unexpected turns in the story and you will miss the characters when they are gone. 
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