Book Review: Whitney Scharer’s ‘The Age of Light’

F53BB3B6-3F42-44B5-B922-54F4362D52FE.jpegDon’t be misled by the blurb or massive marketing campaign. This critical darling is not cross-genre, and is not a million-dollar read.

It’s a flat-out historical romance that’s essentially one big trigger warning. There’s S&M, incest, STD, depression, alcoholism, and PTSD, when there isn’t a dissection of photography and culinary arts — both, insufferable unless the reader is or desires to become well versed in those subjects. It’s less about learning how Lee Miller forged her identity and independence as model-turned-photographer, and more about being schooled in her techniques in the darkroom, bedroom, and kitchen. . .

. . . which is where the book begins: in the kitchen, with an older Lee hosting a dinner party. Her editor, Audrey, asks her to write a magazine piece on her time with Man Ray.

Lee nods. “I’ll do it,” she tells her. “But not his photos. Mine.”

Audrey rolls the stem of her wineglass between her fingers. “I can’t promise that. This is a story about Man Ray.”

But it’s not, Lee thinks. And that’s been the problem all along.

Yet, from that jumping-off point, the author proceeds to perpetuate that very problem.

The story switches among three timeframes (all told in the present tense), with “the age of light” Man Ray years comprising the bulk of it and containing gratuitous sex — coarsely worded in the otherwise eloquently written novel.

For all of Lee’s wild behavior (artistic geniuses can be eccentric; this is not that), her story as told in this novel fits in the “Dull” column. The too-short wartime chapters would have gone a long way, had the author not chosen to focus instead upon the relationship to man Man.

She was the only woman in the room, as was Hedy Lamarr in Marie Benedict’s novel of that title. Skip this new release, and read that earlier one for an historical fiction turn-on.