Review

The Effects of Light

by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

THE
EFFECTS OF LIGHT is a luminous story --- part family drama, part
mystery, and part rumination on the philosophy of art. Miranda
Beverly-Whittemore combines these elements to create a poignant,
thought-provoking, and well-crafted debut novel.

For more than a decade, Myla Rose Wolfe has been living under an
assumed name. As Kate Scott, a medieval literature professor at a
small, secluded East Coast college, she is free of the scandal
associated with her family. But when she receives a package from a
lawyer who's acting on behalf of an anonymous client, she realizes
that no matter how far she runs, or how many details she fabricates
about her life, she can't outrun her past. She heads home to
Portland, Oregon, to relive the event that changed her family
forever --- and to once again become Myla Wolfe.

In the first few pages of the book readers learn that Myla's father
and 13-year-old sister, Pru, died within months of one another
thirteen years ago, sending Myla into a tailspin of grief. The
question of how they died is part of what fuels the narrative, and
Beverly-Whittemore keeps the suspense heightened by parsing out
details about what happened.

As children, Myla and Pru posed for family friend and photographer
Ruth Handel. The photos --- taken over a period of ten years and
some of which depict the young girls naked --- generated a national
controversy about exploitation versus art. Myla and Pru's father, a
brilliant, widowed college professor, was determined to instill in
his daughters a sense of independence, and he allowed them to
choose whether or not they wanted to be in Ruth's photographs. To
the surprise of Myla and Pru, who enjoyed posing for the
photographs and the sense of artistic accomplishment it gave them,
the photos were viewed by some as child pornography.

Beverly-Whittemore makes interesting use of the photographs as a
plot device, including sections called "proof" interspersed
throughout the book. Each one describes a photograph of Myla and
Pru, the circumstances of which are then revealed in the narrative.
The story is propelled along through scenes set in the present as
the reader follows Myla's quest to revisit her past, but the heart
of the tale lies in the passages narrated by Pru. Reminiscent of
THE LOVELY BONES, 13-year-old Pru tells her own story and is a
vital presence in the novel. The events she recounts also shed
light on Myla's character, their sisterly bond and the dynamics of
the family.

If you pared THE EFFECTS OF LIGHT down to its basic elements, it
still would be a compelling read with engaging characters and a
suspenseful storyline. But Beverly-Whittemore doesn't stop there.
Through contrasting images of light and dark, artist and audience,
past and present, she has created a thinking-person's page-turner.
The effect is truly remarkable…and dare I say
enlightening?

Reviewed by Shannon McKenna on January 21, 2011

The Effects of Light
by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

  • Publication Date: February 2, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 0446533297
  • ISBN-13: 9780446533294