A Flickering Light
by Jane Kirkpatrick
Fifteen-year-old Jessie Ann Gaebele loves nothing more than capturing a gorgeous Minnesota landscape when the sunlight casts its most mesmerizing shadows. So when F.J. Bauer hires her in 1907 to assist in his studio and darkroom, her dreams for a career in photography appear to find root in reality.
With the infamous hazards of the explosive powder used for lighting and the toxic darkroom chemicals, photography is considered a man’s profession. Yet Jessie shows remarkable talent in both the artistry and business of running a studio. She proves less skillful, however, at managing her growing attraction to the very married Mr. Bauer.
This luminous coming-of-age tale deftly exposes the intricate shadows that play across every dream worth pursuing --- and the irresistible light that beckons the dreamer on.
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1. What did Jessie Ann Gaebele think she wanted? What got in her way of achieving that? Or did she achieve her goal? What role did her being a woman in a man’s profession play in the arc of her story?
2. What does Emily Dickinson’s poetic line “tell all the truth but tell it slant” have to say about this novel? How do the lines “The Truth must dazzle gradually/Or every man be blind” apply?
3. How did a sense of unworthiness affect Jessie’s decision making? What role did grief play? How did her sense of self affect the outcome of this story?
4. Who in this story deceived themselves the most: F. J.? Mrs. Bauer? Jessie? What truths did they have to tell themselves in order to change the path they were on? Did they? Why or why not?
5. Do you know gifted people who appear to sabotage or squander their talents? What kinds of actions by others can bring them back, or must one make such a journey alone?
6. Have you ever acted in ways that were contrary to your own self-interest? What might have motivated you? What lessons did you learn from that experience?
7. People engaged in clandestine activities often justify their thinking. A common thread of thought is that “no one else is being injured by my actions.” In this story, who was adversely affected? Is there anything they could have done to change their own destiny?
8. How can we offer compassion to people we love who make poor choices without preventing them from discovering their own truths? Has there been a time in your life when someone spoke the truth with less dazzle so you could see it?
9. What role did artistry play in the lives of these characters? For whom did the particular art form such as music, textile creation, photography, provide direction?
10. What do you think of the definitions of faith, hope, and love offered by Edward Everett Hale at the beginning of this novel? Did the characters portrayed act in ways that demonstrated those “three eternities?”
11. While most of the story was told in third person, through the eyes of Jessie, F. J., and Mrs. Bauer, what role did the first-person accounts and pictures of photographs play in your experience of this story? Did their presence distract or did you look forward to what the next photograph would reveal through Jessie’s eyes?
12. A Flickering Light is based on the author’s own grandmother’s story. Does that knowledge in any way shape your reading of the book differently than a novel that is formed of fully imagined characters? Were you aware of this prior to reading A Flickering Light? Does the timing of that awareness change your perspective on this story?
13. In the author’s own notes prior to writing this story, she described her attitude toward A Flickering Light this way: “This is a story about integrity, wholeness, the blend of soul and role in order to fulfill Gods promise in our lives.” Did she accomplish that goal? Why or why not?
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"Historical novelist Kirkpatrick (A Tendering in the Storm) is exceptionally authentic in her use of early 20th-century history. Virtually all the characters are real figures; protagonist Jessie Ann Gaebele is inspired in this “biographical fiction” by the writer's own grandmother. Jessie Ann loves photography, and when she is hired as an assistant to photographer F.J. Bauer, she learns about the field of her dreams and also about herself, as she finds herself attracted to her married boss, who battles his own feelings in return. Kirkpatrick renders the war among desire, duty and restraint with exquisite nuance. There are no unsympathetic characters in this tangle of relationships. Bauer's wife --- also named Jessie --- may be difficult to live with, but she has her reasons. The period detail --- dangerous chemicals used in photography, debilitating and frequent illnesses, the routine constraints on women's choices --- offers a compelling portrait of the time. Kirkpatrick deserves a wide audience for this coming-of-age tale that is aching and hopeful."
Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
"Readers will be happy at the end of Kirkpatrick’s new offering, a coming-of-age story about a woman in a profession that was once considered a man’s job. The characters have many layers for the reader to peel away as they learn their strengths and weaknesses. The author truly makes the characters come alive."
"Jane Kirkpatrick has done it again. A Flickering Light is as engaging, well researched and finely written as her other best selling historical novels. Her characters are real people with real temptations and at the end of the novel, this reader wants to know what happens next."
Lauraine Snelling, author of One Perfect Day
"Jane Kirkpatrick’s brilliance as a storyteller and her elegant artistry with the written word shine like a beacon in A Flickering Light. A master at weaving historical accounts with threads of story, Jane has that rare ability to take her reader on a journey through time. You nearly feel the ground move beneath your feet."
Susan Meissner, author of The Shape of Mercy