Jane Kirkpatrick is the award-winning author of 16 historical novels and several works of nonfiction. She often writes about her ancestors, as in AN ABSENCE SO GREAT, which beautifully portrays the lives and times of her grandparents and great-grandparents in the early 20th century. Not only does she have a way with words that paint a living picture, her characters are bigger than life while being completely genuine.
The title is an example of Kirkpatrick’s skill as a writer. There is a vast difference between “A Great Absence” and “An Absence So Great.” The latter causes readers to wonder: An absence so great that what? That it’s unbearable? That it causes devastating pain? That one can’t live with it? In this case, the answer to all of those questions is “yes.” The losses suffered by the characters are real and ones to which many readers can relate. Yet, despite those losses, people with spirit and values find the strength to live their lives productively with grace. They offer encouragement to those around them and to those descendants who come after them.
Eighteen-year-old Jessie Ann Gaebele leaves her family in Winona, Minnesota, and strikes out on her own to realize her dream: become a famous photographer and have her own studio. She learned her craft well under the mentoring of Fredrick Bauer, renowned photography studio owner, and easily finds work as an assistant when she moves to Eau Claire, Wisconsin. There she takes the first steps toward managing her own business as she develops ways to photograph people without having to get them into a studio. Although she makes some mistakes and suffers some losses, she never loses sight of her goal and eventually saves up enough money to get a matching bank loan. But even in her hometown, the Winona bankers refuse to loan money to a young woman wanting to start her own business…it just wasn’t done.
Throughout the book there are opportunities and circumstances that develop as a result of faith. The belief that God has the best interest of his children at heart is reiterated in many ways. And the fact that there is a forbidden love involved does not seem to matter as long as those involved behave properly and have their hearts in the right place. That is, it is their primary desire to do the right thing regardless of how they feel. Often this is easier said than done.
AN ABSENCE SO GREAT is not fast food. It’s a book that you’ll want to savor and enjoy every delectable morsel of. Not only is the writing delicious, but throughout the book there are actual photographs taken by Jessie that are lovingly described by her granddaughter. If one wanted to write a beautiful, fictional love story, this true story would provide an excellent outline.
Reviewed by Maggie Harding on March 16, 2010