Synopses & Reviews
Did photography replace an absence in her life or expose the truth of her heart’s emptiness?
While growing in confidence as a photographer, eighteen-year-old Jessie Ann Gaebele’s personal life is at a crossroads. Hoping she’s put an unfortunate romantic longing behind her as “water under the bridge,” she exiles herself to Milwaukee to operate photographic studios for those owners who have fallen ill with mercury poisoning.
Jessie gains footing in her dream to one day operate her own studio and soon finds herself in other Midwest towns, pursuing her profession. But even a job she loves can’t keep painful memories from seeping into her heart when the shadows of a forbidden love threaten to darken the portrait of her life.
"Kirkpatrick weaves a remarkable love story within the history of the time to tell her grandmother's tale. I found myself cheering for Jessie as she faced each new obstacle with an inner strength and sense of self confidence.” Cynthia Claridge, co-owner of Paulina Springs Books in Redmond and Sisters, Oregon
"In An Absence So Great, Jane’s readers — and I am one of her most faithful of them — will be swept up in Jessie Gaebele’s struggle for independence against a backdrop of prejudice and forbidden love, beautifully written by one of America’s favorite storytellers." Sandra Dallas, author of Prayers for Sale
“Jane Kirkpatrick has written a gentle and captivating account of people caught between reality and desire, taken from her own ancestry. Her depiction of photography during the early 1900s is fascinating. It filled my senses like delicious aromas permeate a home during the holidays.” Cindy Woodsmall, best-selling author of The Hope of Refuge and the Sisters of the Quilt series
“Jane Kirkpatrick's attention to detail and ability to craft living, breathing characters immerses the reader into her story world. I come away entranced, enlightened, and enriched after losing myself in one of her novels.”Kim Vogel Sawyer, bestselling author of My Heart Remembers
While growing in confidence as a photographer, 18-year-old Jessie Ann Gaebele's personal life is at a crossroads. But even a job she loves can't keep painful memories from seeping into her heart when the shadows of a forbidden love threaten to darken the portrait of her life.
About the Author
Jane Kirkpatrick is an award-winning, best-selling author of sixteen historical novels, and three nonfiction titles, including A Flickering Light, the first part of Jessie Gaebele’s story and one of Library Journal's Best of 2009. Known for her unique insights into the exploration of community, family, and faith of actual historical women, the Wisconsin native and her husband have called their ranch in Oregon home for the past twenty-five years.
Reading Group Guide
By appointment, the author is available for phone interviews with book groups. Visit www.jkbooks.com to arrange a thirty-minute conversation with Jane.
1. This book is titled An Absence So Great.
What were the absences revealed in this story? How did each character attempt to fill the void? What worked? What didn’t work?
2. How would you describe Jessie Gaebele’s efforts to be anvindependent woman working in a profession that largely excluded women in the early twentieth century? Do businesswomen today face similar challenges? How have things changed, and what has remained the same?
3. What kind of isolating experiences did Jessie Gaebele impose upon herself while in Milwaukee and Eau Claire, and even in Winona when she had her own studio? Did she rebuild those barriers in Bismarck, or did she learn from her experiences?
4. How would you respond to Mrs. Bauer’s remark: “Maybe that was the way for women: having time without a man around offered relief, but they didn’t ever dare say so, not even to themselves, for fear the thought violated heavenly law”?
5. Do you think Jessie overreacted when she learned of ways Fred hoped to advance her career, to be helpful, as he put it? If talent is in part a currency meant to be invested, how did each of the characters invest their talents? Did Jessie misuse the “credit” and “meaningful deposit relationships” she’d established in her life? How else might she have handled the men who offered to assist her?
6. What did each of the main characters want? Why is it so difficult for us to name our desires? What did you think about Jessie’s reliance on the proverb, “Desire accomplished is sweet to the soul”? What does that proverb mean to you?
7. How would you characterize Fred Bauer? Was he unfaithful? Was Mrs. Bauer unfaithful to her vows? Was Jessie? How does emotional infidelity affect a relationship? What actions did the characters take to find new directions? Were they successful?
8. Virginia Butler says, “It’s human nature to mistrust goodness. Part of our exile from Eden, I suspect. We have to be vigilant in remembering that we all mess up our houses. And with grace we’re allowed to straighten things up once again.” Do you agree with Virginia? Why or why not? Have you mistrusted goodness? Messed things up in your life? What brought you through to “straighten things up once again”?
9. On top of the Missouri bluffs, Jessie says, “Unless she saw self-pity and envy and despair as acts of willfulness, she’d always feel set apart, never have the Guide she sought.” What do you think Jessie means? What sorts of acts keep us from spiritual wholeness? Is the trail back to wholeness from self-pity and envy different from the way back from other hurtful and self-destructive decisions we make in our lives?
10. The author told this story through Selma’s letters, through Jessie’s photographs and her commentary about them, and through the third-person narratives of Jessie, Fred, and Mrs. Bauer. How did each of these elements move the story forward, or did they? Did you find that the letters or photographic commentary distracted from or enhanced the narrative? Did you see things revealed in the photographs that Jessie missed in her telling?
11. When preparing to write this book, the author said her purpose was to prove that “accepting the gift of forgiveness
is the hardest yet most meaningful work of the human spirit.” Did she accomplish her aim? Why or why not?