December 2008

‘Blindspot’ offers clear vision

By Jane Kamensky
Review by
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If you ever thought of the 18th century as stuffy, you were wrong. Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore have brought the era to life with their first collaborative novel, Blindspot. Through their engaging tale, we're treated to a brand-new vision of life and literature in the years leading up to the American Revolution.

Stewart "Jamie" Jameson, exiled from Scotland, has just washed up in America to set up shop as a portrait painter. To establish credibility with his new clientele, he puts out an ad for an apprentice, which leads him to Fanny Easton. A fallen woman with a talent for art who's estranged from a powerful family, Fanny assumes the role of a teen boy named Francis Weston. When one of the town's revolutionary leaders is murdered and his slaves are indicted for the crime, Jamie and Fanny join Jamie's brilliant friend Ignatius Alexander in trying to solve the mystery—even as they face the mysteries of love.

As a leading man, Jamie is nothing short of dreamy—passionate and funny with a big heart. Fanny charms him with her wit even while disguised as a boy, and the apprentice soon finds herself anguished by a crushing love for her master, which she is sure can never be requited. Their stories are laced into a backdrop of the tragedies of poverty and the slave trade in the young American colonies. Kamensky and Lepore, both professors who have written nonfiction, have endeavored to create not just a historical novel, but also a kind of faux 18th-century novel. Told alternately from Jamie's perspective and through Fanny's letters to a girlhood friend, the book is a combination picaresque and early American novel that's original but historically credible, complete with real news postings and letters, and even characters that are tracings of historical figures. The result is so authentic the book seems to breathe. Blindspot is full of beautiful narrative and wonderfully quotable lines like "whence Reason when Justice places a man in a cage?" But make no mistake: it also has plenty of, er, action.

Jessica Inman writes from Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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By Jane Kamensky
Spiegel & Grau
ISBN 9780385526197

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