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The Visionist: A Novel Hardcover – January 14, 2014

4.2 out of 5 stars 112 customer reviews

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Urquhart constructs this debut novel around a seminal era in Shaker history. Set in New England in the mid-nineteenth century during the “Era of Manifestations,” this tale explores the often paradoxical nature of a zealously rigid and charismatic belief system. After setting fire to her family’s farmhouse while her abusive father sleeps, 15-year-old Polly Kimball escapes with her mother and young brother in tow. Seeking refuge as indentured orphans in a Shaker community, Polly is mistakenly hailed as a “visionist,” inflaming spiritual passions and arousing suspicions among various citizens of the City of Hope. As Polly attempts to guard her secret, a determined private investigator works behind the scenes to uncover the truth about the fire. Although the pacing is a bit plodding at times, the subject matter and the historical setting are compelling. --Margaret Flanagan
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (January 14, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316228117
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316228114
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (112 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #587,607 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Sandra VINE VOICE on December 27, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Polly Kimball and her mother and brother were constantly at the mercy of her abusive father. When her drunken father came home one day, announcing that it was time for him to live on the farm alone, Polly knew that something had to be done. She loaded her terrified mother and brother into the wagon. When she took the lantern to check on her drunken, sleeping father one last time, his sudden movement startled her so greatly that she dropped the lantern. As they drove away, Polly watched the farm burn.

Her mother drove them to the nearby City of Hope, a Shaker settlement. She dropped off both of her children and left. Confused and terrified, Polly, still fearful of her violent father, is seen as having visions during community prayer one evening. From then on, Polly, who considers herself to be a murderer, is now seen as a visionist, through which their founder, Ann Lee, can communicate with them.

As the summary suggests, this was a really exciting and interesting book. Narrated in three persons, the reader is afforded three valuable viewpoints. The characters were well developed and very realistic. The setting was detailed and certainly influenced the storyline. Set in the mid 19th century in New England, the Shakers, at that time, were experiencing what they called the “Era of Manifestations”. During this ten-year period, many Shaker community members were said to be experiencing visions. Polly’s community, the City of Hope, just happened to be a community that was waiting for their own ‘visionist’ to spur on the faith. So the impact of Polly’s actions fell onto very fertile ground. Consequently, the tension built throughout the story, starting with the dramatic beginning.

This book teaches the reader, in an interesting and unusual way, that things are not always as they appear. This book is filled with surprises. This is a great book!
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Shaker history is a hobby of mine. They contributed so much to the US and are a bold page in the American story. I know enough to recognize solid footwork from shabby. This dark and mysterious novel is wonderfully woven with loving and fine attention to historical accuracy and detail. It is fiction but great care has been taken to represent Shaker life in as true a way as possible. The bibliography cites all the heavy hitters in Shaker scholarship. Ms. Urquhart deserves recognition for her investment in making this aspect as alive as possible.

This novel revolves around the sad Kimball family, their escape from abuse and the use of a Shaker community as a safe haven. The story has 3 main characters: Polly, an abused child, Charity, a Shaker girl and Simon, an arson investigator. The story lines weave around one another until they merge. There is mystery, mysticism and consequence all braided together here. The story never falters. Character, plot and background are all unfolded with a skilled hand. I enjoyed every single page of this book. There is nothing more enjoyable than an inventive story in the hands of someone who can truly write.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys strong plot in a historical context. I think it helps to have an enjoyment of Shaker history but I'd not say that is required. Excellent read; I look forward to more work from this author.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Fearing for her life from her abusive father, 15 year old Polly Kimball sets fire to her house and helps her mother and younger brother escape. Her mother leads her to the community of Shakers to find refuge. With the Shakers, Polly will come to know the unique ways of the Shakers while being honored as a visionist. While Polly attempts to cover her secrets, there are those who suspect Polly is more than what she claims.

Meanwhile, the fire inspector has been sent out to Polly's farm to discover the cause of the fire that destroyed the house and greedy men and women seek to claim the valuable land as their own.

The Visionist by Rachel Urquhart had a lot of potential. The situation and characters were unique and it was interesting learning more about the Shakers. When we lived in New Hampshire, we drove often through the Shaker's community nearby and loved their beautiful, simple homes and lovely farms. Even so, I knew very little about their beliefs or customs, beyond the fact that they followed the guidelines set by their prophetess Ann Lee and that they lived a celibate life.

I was immediately enthralled by Polly's story. She sought peace and safety from the world and The Shakers, who had forsaken the world, offered just what she needed. However, there was danger from within. Polly no longer was allowed to be with her younger brother Ben and she held her own secrets that would turn the other Shakers against her.

The beginning of the book starts with plenty of action and excitement. The middle starts to lag and I almost abandoned the novel around 100 pages. Polly's friend Charity seems to say the same thing over and over. I persevered and thankfully, the novel has a dramatic and satisfying conclusion.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In this transcendent prose, the brutal life that Polly lives before the fire stands in striking contrast to the life of the Shaker community in which she finds refuge. She bears a deep secret of the times that drove her brother and herself to be brought the community for refuge. Her mother, driven by her secrets, and burdened by her failure to protect her children in the past, flees into the world once again.

Polly inadvertently finds herself heralded as a Visionist, one who sees the love of the Founder during the ecstasy of her first service. The descriptions of the rapture of the faithful and the pleasure of a simple life enmesh the reader even as Polly is woven into the settlement. Yet the fissures in the village appear, and the venom of the world remains in hearts. In the hearts of her one true friend and in the strengthening of the fire investigator's determination to help her, I see the traces of true spirit.

This book bravely approaches the "Narrow Path" to goodness. The answer is not as it is held by many, but I believe the author has achieved a lovely dance of her own. Certainly it is not simple. I found the book subtle and beautiful in its approach to the seekers within it. The Shaker dream is lovely in its simple quest and heartbreaking when it fails in some souls. The questions rebound in the reader's mind making this a gifted piece of writing.
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