The Visionist Discussion Pt. 2

HOLY. SHAKERS. shaker dance2 As with any impressive work of literature, the characters within “The Visionist” are beginning to see their innocence evolving into experience; this age-old theme has allowed the novel to take on the feel of a coming-of-age story, complete with sudden self-awareness and occasional self-doubt. These revelations emerge through the new-found companionship between Sister Charity and Polly. In last week’s post, Melinda wondered when and how our three point-of-view characters would come together. Now that we’re 115 pages into the novel, Sister Polly and Sister Charity have come together in a powerful sisterhood that shows how similar the two girls truly are. This almost immediate intimacy ignites because Polly and Charity have both experienced a sudden independence born of abandonment, an unforeseen loneliness that allows for them to bond instantly. Due to her “Devilish” markings, Charity has been very suddenly ousted from her favored position, both figuratively and literally. Essentially, Sister Charity’s small world is crumbling around her when Polly finds her way into the fold. The two girls, whose chapters were before peppered with imagery of emptiness, have now become complete through their friendship. The main event—that of Polly’s “vision”—occurs during her first visit to the Shakers’ Sabbath Day Meeting. The church service involves maniacal, cyclical dancing that feels almost tribal in its stomping, spinning and shaking. Amidst this carnivalesque scene, Polly’s outburst is horrifying to read about: she stands on her own, “swaying with eyes closed and fist clenched, dancing—a slow, mournful shuffle—alone in a sun-soaked spot.” How frightening to imagine! Then she speaks about the rescue mission of her angels and her attempt to escape from her father. We, as readers, know the true horror of her past; the Believers, however, interpret her words as those of a divinely gifted “Visionist,” assuming the “Him” who Polly seeks to evade is actually the Devil. Charity’s chapters seem to be the most telling about Polly’s personal revolution, (although they also shed light upon the changes that Charity herself is experiencing), as they show how her recent “gift” as a Visionist has led her to be a lighter, brighter person: almost as if this gift is one of renewed purity, like Polly is moving from the corrupt experiences of her father’s world back into a life of innocence. Polly’s only remaining connection to the World is Ben, the little brother who no longer needs her (or her protection). The relationship between Charity and Polly, though founded on feeling empty and abandoned, has evolved into something wonderfully simple and liberating. Each girl feels for the other complete and total admiration and unconditional love. This closeness manifests even further when Charity presents her treasured friend with a small book discovered from the night Polly came to the community. This small gift confirms their fast friendship, and creates a feminine space within the novel that feels quite new, for them and for us as readers. AND THEN THEY KISS?!? While I was surprised by the end of this section, I think Urquhart somewhat prepares us for this. The intimacy – and relief – that each girl finds in the other is powerful, and although we do not yet know whether or not the kiss was romantic, it seems to be a natural occurrence given the experimental, girlish way in which the two interact. Close on the heels of Polly comes our Private Investigator: As Melinda pointed out last week, Simon’s cynicism offers refreshing comic relief. He’s our most morally ambiguous character, and he’s painfully aware of the difficult decision he must make regarding the details of the fire Polly set; will he report an incendiary? Or an accident? Simon’s chapters are dark and full of wasteland imagery: as he investigates the remains of the fire, he describes the destruction room-by-room, all the way out into the corn field where we find Kimball’s scorched remains (whew). Simon unravels the mystery with pride, and eventually concludes that the fire “reeked of desperation, not greed.” But how much of his official report will be truthful, and how much of the details will be ones that Pryor himself set up? As we move forward through the novel, I am so anxious to see how the relationship evolves between Polly and Charity. Will their intimacy become a romantic one? What other surprises does Urquhart have in store for the two girls? And what role does Simon have to play, now that he's completed his investigation of the fire at the Kimball farm? Next Saturday Melinda will be discussing the next few chapters (p 115 -146), so stay tuned for more ideas and questions on "The Visionist." Thanks for reading! katie-sig

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