The Visionist

The Visionist

3.8 9
by Rachel Urquhart
     
 

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An enthralling first novel about a teenage girl who finds refuge--but perhaps not--in an 1840s Shaker community.

After 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

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Overview

An enthralling first novel about a teenage girl who finds refuge--but perhaps not--in an 1840s Shaker community.

After 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--even her faith--on Polly's honesty and purity.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This debut novel draws the reader into the strange and mystical world of the Shakers. Following a devastating fire, May Kimball indentures her two children, Ben and Polly, to a Shaker community in 1840s Massachusetts. While attempting to cover devastating secrets, Polly is revered as a "visionist," develops a close but uneasy friendship with Sister Charity, and draws the suspicion of Elder Sister Agnes. Meanwhile, a fire inspector with secrets of his own investigates the fire at the Kimball farm and gets drawn into the family's misfortunes. Urquhart's research provides fascinating details about Shaker beliefs and practices, and she deftly displays how human nature will break out even where attempts are made to suppress it in favor of a "pure" life. The alternating chapters involving Simon Pryor's investigation of the fire mesh somewhat uneasily with the rest of the story, as they impose a few too many plot contrivances on a story about the nature of faith and sin. VERDICT For historical fiction fans wanting to immerse themselves in a setting they may know little about, this novel fits the bill.—Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis
National Public Radio
"Urquhart captures in exquisite detail the cruel demands of grueling poverty in 1840s New England, and, by contrast, the orderly Shaker community... She layers The Visionist with many startling moments, from the chorus of consoling angels that come to Polly when her father visits her bed at night, to the lengths to which ways her courageous mother goes to protect her...And in the course of her lyrically written tale, she offers a fresh view of this mysterious religious sect."
The Wall Street Journal
"The Visionist reads in parts like a Victorian thriller...but [it] is more than a mystery. Ms. Urquhart also takes a close look at the notions of justice, faith and morality that prevailed at the time and the struggles of those trying to live 'pure' lives...In a painstakingly researched novel framed by a suspenseful plot, Ms. Urquhart gives the reader an intriguing glimpse behind these doors."
the Oprah Magazine O
"A daring novel of secrets, revelations, and redemption...Rachel Urquhart's engrossing first novel...sparks a story of guild, greed, friendship, and fanatical piety in 19th-century Massachusetts."
(Starred Review) - Shelf Awareness
"Rich with history and mystical intrigue, Urquhart's American gothic is capable of sending chills across your skin one moment, then warming your heart the next...The story is as eerie as it is heartrending, weighing miracle against coincidence, deviation against sincerity, with the remnants of one rural family hanging in the balance. The Visionist will have you holding your breath until the final, magnificent revelation."
San Francisco Chronicle
"Rachel Urquhart's shatteringly original debut transports readers...The Visionist is told in three eloquent voices, Polly, Sister Charity and Simon Pryor, all blazingly alive, each walking a high-wire act of moral choices...writing so rich, so detailed, that you not only come to care for all the characters deeply, you also become so immersed in the world of the Shakers, you can almost feel the floor moving as they stomp in ecstatic dance. Part mystery and part thriller, The Visionist is also a shimmering exploration of identity."
The New York Daily News
"A simmering, brooding novel...[Urquhart] delivers a book perfectly suited to curling up with by the hearth...Both the era and the culture are deeply explored, as is the psyche of a tormented girl for whom it seems there is no safe haven."
From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR THE VISIONIST:

"Gripping, profound, and beautifully written, The Visionist takes us to a world where faith and fear exist simultaneously and safety has a price. A remarkable exploration of love in all its forms with complex characters who linger far beyond the final pages."—Brunonia Barry, author of The Lace Reader

"The Visionist is both a haunting, beautifully imagined tale of lives devastated by cruelty and transformed by love, and a gorgeously evocative portrait of an 1840s Shaker settlement that is as startling as it is convincing."—Cathy Buchanan, author of The Painted Girls

"Rachel Urquhart's transporting debut The Visionist lifts the veil on the intriguing, mystical past world of the Massachusetts Shakers. Equal parts exquisite historical coming-of-age story and harrowing crime procedural, The Visionist breathes life into desperate young orphan Polly Kimball, weaving a complex and compelling drama about one of American history's most elusive religious communities. Lovers of historical fiction and seekers after truth will devour The Visionist just like I did."—Katherine Howe, New York Times bestselling author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

"Rachel Urquhart paints a fascinating, complex portrait of Shaker culture in early America. An unexpected coming of age story, a suspenseful mystery. But what makes The Visionist particularly engaging is its thoughtful examination of the nature of good and evil, and our struggle to recognize it in ourselves and in others."—Eowyn Ivey, New York Times bestselling author of The Snow Child

"Urquhart captures in exquisite detail the cruel demands of grueling poverty in 1840s New England, and, by contrast, the orderly Shaker community... She layers The Visionist with many startling moments, from the chorus of consoling angels that come to Polly when her father visits her bed at night, to the lengths to which ways her courageous mother goes to protect her...And in the course of her lyrically written tale, she offers a fresh view of this mysterious religious sect." -National Public Radio

"Urquhart has created a world rich in details and vibrant in its historical dimensions...Urquhart captures how the Shakers live, dance, dine, garden, heal and worship, but she also has a genuine feel for her characters' longings and devotion...The true virtue of this story is the meditative consideration of the value of hardship and the transformative nature of ecstasy. Like Marilynne Robinson's Gilead and Edward P. Jones's The Known World, The Visionist aspires to illuminate our understanding of faith, resilience, shame and forgiveness." - Amber Dermont, New York Times

"The Visionist reads in parts like a Victorian thriller...but [it] is more than a mystery. Ms. Urquhart also takes a close look at the notions of justice, faith and morality that prevailed at the time and the struggles of those trying to live 'pure' lives...In a painstakingly researched novel framed by a suspenseful plot, Ms. Urquhart gives the reader an intriguing glimpse behind these doors." - The Wall Street Journal

"Beautifully written in the language and style of the 1840s, "The Visionist" is a fascinating story detailing an often overlooked religious sect: the Shakers."-The Gazette (Iowa City)

"A daring novel of secrets, revelations, and redemption...Rachel Urquhart's engrossing first novel...sparks a story of guild, greed, friendship, and fanatical piety in 19th-century Massachusetts." -O, the Oprah Magazine

"Rich with history and mystical intrigue, Urquhart's American gothic is capable of sending chills across your skin one moment, then warming your heart the next...The story is as eerie as it is heartrending, weighing miracle against coincidence, deviation against sincerity, with the remnants of one rural family hanging in the balance. The Visionist will have you holding your breath until the final, magnificent revelation." - Shelf Awareness (Starred Review)

"Rachel Urquhart's shatteringly original debut transports readers...The Visionist is told in three eloquent voices, Polly, Sister Charity and Simon Pryor, all blazingly alive, each walking a high-wire act of moral choices...writing so rich, so detailed, that you not only come to care for all the characters deeply, you also become so immersed in the world of the Shakers, you can almost feel the floor moving as they stomp in ecstatic dance. Part mystery and part thriller, The Visionist is also a shimmering exploration of identity." -San Francisco Chronicle

"A simmering, brooding novel...[Urquhart] delivers a book perfectly suited to curling up with by the hearth...Both the era and the culture are deeply explored, as is the psyche of a tormented girl for whom it seems there is no safe haven." - The New York Daily News

"Written in sparsely beautiful prose, Urquhart's novel is like reading Edith Wharton, the mood dark and subdued." - Curled Up With a Good Book

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780316228091
Publisher:
Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
01/14/2014
Sold by:
Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
260,024
File size:
932 KB

Meet the Author

Rachel Urquhart's work has been published in The New Yorker, Tin House, Elle, the New York Times, Vogue, and Spy, among other publications, and she is the author of three Chic Simple lifestyle books. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two sons.

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The Visionist 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
ReadersFavorite More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by Anne Boling for Readers' Favorite This is a review of the audio version of The Visionist: A Novel written by Rachel Urquhart. Polly Kimball’s father was cruel and violent. While her father slept, fifteen-year-old Polly loaded her mother and brother into the wagon. Polly took the lantern and went back into the house; she accidentally dropped the lantern, setting the house on fire. Polly knew she had just murdered her father. Her mother drove the wagon to the City of Hope, a Shaker village and left her children there for the community to care for. The members of the community believed that Polly was having visions through which she could contact their founder Ann Lee. Suddenly, Polly was drawing unwanted attention and was afraid her secret would be discovered. I was particularly interested in this book because I have visited a Shaker settlement and found the lifestyle interesting. The author, Rachel Urqhhart, has well researched the Shakers, their beliefs and culture. The Visionist is told through three points of view: Polly’s, Simon, an arsonist investigator, and Charity, a Shaker teen. The characters of Polly and Charity have great depth. My heart went out to Polly who believed herself to be a murderer and felt responsible for her brother's well-being. The Visionist is a nice mix of mystery and drama with a bit of mysticism thrown in. Rachel Urquhart is talented author and The Visionist has a fascinating plot. The audio format of this book has three readers: Ellen Archer, Peter Ganim, and Ali Ahn. The readers’ voices add depth and emotion to this outstanding book. No matter what format you prefer, this is a read you won’t want to miss.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful book!  Great read! Hard to imagine a book about Shakers being a page turner but it is. Beautifully writtentfu
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked this book very much; I learned a lot about the Shaker religion but it was done all through the story. Very good book that I would recommend to anyone.
BettyM415 More than 1 year ago
I was quite disappointed in this book. I was anxious to read a book about Shakers because I've studied and read about them. This author made the Shakers appear stern, jealous, petty, and greedy. These were Christian people who chose to live their lives as they would in Heaven, with love, compassion and joy. I didn't see enough of that. There is a great deal of misinformation and misunderstanding about Shakerism and I found that in this book.
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. Kk.