What is Visible by Kimberly Elkins, published in 2014.
The book is based on the real life story of Laura Bridgman, who lived in the 1800's. She contracted scarlet fever at age 2, and was no longer able to see, hear, smell or taste. When she was seven, she was taken to the Perkins Institute in Boston, to determine what a child with her disibilities could learn. Dr. Howe taught her to write with her fingers, on the palm of a hand, and she learned to read, and write on a board. She becomes very attached to Dr. Howe, and he favors her and lets her stay in his house, until he marries a woman named Julia. He and Julia go to India for a year, and come back with a child. Laura is no longer as special.
A woman, Sarah White, is hired to be her companion, and teach her. Laura becomes very attached to Sarah, and when Sarah is being courted by Mr. Boyd, Laura thinks he is courting her. She is devasted when Sarah leaves, and marries Mr. Boyd. The Boyds live on one of the Hawaiian Islands for several years, and she is very subdued when she returns. It turns out that her husband had syphillis. She becomes ill later in life, and ends up in an asylum. It is never clear if she got syphillis, or this was from the depression she had dealt with all her life. When Sarah leaves, a young Irish woman named Kate is hired to help Cook, and also to spend time with Laura. Kate becomes pregnant by an unnamed man, and has to leave.
Julia is portrayed as a very bright, intelligent woman who needed more intellectual stimulation than she was getting in her marriage. She travels abroad for a while, and Dr. Howe is threatened when she has a friendship with a poet.
Dr. Howe spends less and less time with Laura as she becomes an adult. He is frustrated that she has her own ideas about philosophy, religion, slavery and abolitionists. This parallels his relationship with his wife. He is against her writing and publishing her own poetry, and establishing her own identity. Laura lives a long life, but was restricted in so many ways, in addition to her physical disabilities. A very interesting, true story about a handicapped woman who preceeded Helen Keller.
The Arsonist by Sue Miller, published in 2014
Sue Miller writes another very good book. Frankie Rowley returns home to New Hampshire after working for 15 years in Africa. She feels she doesn’t belong anywhere. She stays in the summer home of her parents, who have just moved permanently to their summer home in a small village in Pomeroy. Frankie remembers summers growing up here, when, she was a summer resident. Now she is living here during the year. Her sister Liz and family are building a family home nearby. When Frankie arrives she sees that her parents, both retired professors, are living a very different life. Her father, Alfie, seems to have Alzheimer’s and her mother is his caretaker. Her father has times of lucidity and times of strong confusion. Frankie moves into her sister’s house, which is half built, while the family is away. The book focuses on a number of arsons, that first occur before the summer residents arrive in June. Then the fires begin while residents are in the town or in their house. Meanwhile, Frankie is falling in love with Bud, the owner of the newspaper who has left Washington D.C. to buy the local newspaper, and write the news, and live in a small town. Frankie doesn’t know if she wants to go to N.Y. to work, or stay. She is torn between her love for Bud and her need to travel and work abroad. The book has several themes going on -- Alzheimer’s, and the devastation to a very intelligent man and his family; Fear in the community when arson begins, and how relationships change as people become suspicious of each other; Frankie's difficulty determining what she wants in life,what feels meaningful to her, and where she feels she needs to be; These feelings mixed in with the feeling of not belonging anywere, and leftover feelings from childhood about parents. This is also a love story, focusing on the difficulty of making a commitment and understanding each other’s needs.