I am a firm believer that good stories aren’t defined by their popularity on the best sellers’ list. There are so many underrated novels and authors out there simply because most readers aren’t adventurous enough to wander deeper inside the labyrinths of their favourite bookshops. The most special gems, they say, are usually hidden on the hearts of caves. Okay, that cheesy metaphor failed a little. But I mean it.
“Effects of Light”, the debut novel of Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, is case in point. She’s not wildly popular as an author, but her work speaks much about her precocious and promising talent. Taking on intriguing themes such as photography, nudity, child pornography, art and life, the novel cleverly reveals in fragments the haunted lives of its two narrators: Myla and Prudence Wolfe, sisters.
The story in three words: Controversial, Compelling, Charming. I think I just found myself a sparkly gem, luminescent of a very suspenseful and stunning story that shines and enlightens (pun intended).
I remember it so well: A sunny morning, Valentines’ Day of 2009. I skipped my classes because I’m feeling lazier than usual and eventually found myself loitering down the alleys of my favourite bookstore for hours. That afternoon, I bought this book and took it with me on a memorial park (yes, I’m this odd, introspective kid who grieves on the day of hearts quite literally.) where I quietly read it for the rest of the day.
Getting deeply lost in the story was no problem. The characters were beautifully and artistically layered. Just like taking a look at a stack of photographs, the readers will no doubt fall in love with the very visual depiction of the character’s thoughts and emotions. I especially loved the narrative of Prudence or ‘Pru’, the younger one of the Wolfe sisters. Her insights were so child-like yet so well beyond her years; she tugged at my heartstrings so easily that by the time I finished the book, I wish I met her.
Aside from the originality of the plot, I am also impressed with the creative way with which the past and the present collided in a series of interchanging chapters between Myla and Pru. It’s adorable and heartbreaking how they tackle their perceptions of each other while growing up and I loved how they both transport the readers to the heart of everything that happened, until the truth becomes crystal clear.
I won’t forget to laud this book’s in-depth analysis of art and how it affects the make-shifts of life and humanity. There are memorable tidbits and anecdotes about real artists and painters which still resonate in my mind from time to time. Everything fits in so perfectly in tune with the perks and burdens of growing up in a family of scholars and artists. Ultimately, it’s unforgettable how the dark side of art has changed the lives of the sisters and eventually brought it into a climactic and unlikely end.
I’m no photography expert but I know this much—that most of the best photographs in the world do not simply make us look out at the world and its beauty; more than anything else, they make us look inside ourselves to find what it truly means to be and feel, beautiful with our own skin.
Also, can I just say the book cover design rocks?