In 1900, young women in St. Louis society must conform to certain expectations. But Deborah Huntworth longs to paint the world as she sees it—radiating with color and light. The death of her pitiless great-aunt releases Deborah. Finally she is free to pursue her artistic dreams and to reclaim the beloved child who was taken from her. But disaster awaits on the island of Martinique. Will the gift of her art be enough to carry her through tragedy?
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Deborah waits to hear the front door click shut as her lover slips out to make his guilty way home to an invalid wife. He has lingered too long, poor fellow; Brently Mallard will miss his train. She enjoys the round, warm, rosy feeling of her body, enjoying it even more now that she is alone again in her refuge where she keeps rendezvous with a passion that has nothing to do with erring
The sparsely furnished little room is in disarray. Her paints and brushes fill packing crates; her papers and canvases are piled high along one wall. Her palette, smeared with green and brown, her untidy paint tubes, a drying canvas on the easel, and a finished painting on the wall are left to pack. Everything else has been boxed and packaged for weeks, dreaming in the darkness of escape. Deborah is waiting for the death of her great-aunt, Tante Charity, the French form of address the old lady insists on, waiting for her to pass from this life to what Deborah devoutly hopes will be a blankness, a disappearance, utter annihilation with no possible return, not even a ripple, a breath, an echo, please God, not a dream.
With an occasional dalliance when it pleases her, she is poised to return to Martinique when the fetters keeping her in St. Louis are finally removed. Deborah has just enough money to rent her small studio on Jefferson Street, to pay for paint and canvas and unobstructed room to work. She has created a sweet oasis to help her endure the harsh, dry desert of respectability, where she has sequestered her heart and steeled her nerves. Here she works in privacy, uninterrupted by expectations or obligations, unjudged and free. Only Katy, her childhood nurse, knows where to find her...COLLAPSE
Michael Spurgeon, Borchard Foundation Center on Literary Arts wrote:
It’s clear from the start of Deborah’s Gift that this is a novel about an artist. I don’t mean just that it’s outright stated in the prologue; the first chapter, about Deborah’s childhood, is a feast for all the senses. Even before she is able to truly express it, she has a way of viewing things that will serve her well as a painter. Abraham doesn’t just give us a wealth of visual description, though the book has that in spades. (Best of all: it works!) She feeds every sense the reader has, immersing them in Deborah’s world. And what a world it is! Deborah is a young woman caught in the trials of the late nineteenth century when everyone expects her to be some softer version of herself. If she will not bend, she will be beaten down. At times it seems impossible that she will be able to have the life she dreams of. I fell head over heels with this book from the start, and at no point did it let me down. It’s rich and vivid, an excellent addition to the wealth of historical fiction being written today. 5 STARS
Gary Thompson, author of Broken by Water wrote:
“In a style as clear, eloquent, and evocative as the paintings of its heroine, Lois Ann Abraham’s historical novel follows the life of a woman fiercely committed to overcoming the suffocating social restrictions of her times as she pursues her dreams. Deborah careens from one tragic turn to the next, but despite a world of heartache, she never wavers from her conviction that the creative act is its own form of salvation. Abraham’s novel reminds us that to live is to love, lose, and endure, but to live well requires the unwavering courage to be true to one’s self.”
Mary Camarillo, author of The Lockhart Women wrote:
“In deliciously descriptive and delightful prose, Lois Ann Abraham tells a coming-of-age story set mostly in America—though important things happen on the French island of Martinique—as the 19th century hastens into the 20th, into the modern age. Deborah, the spirited child who becomes a determined young woman and disciplined artist, once describes her life in fairy tale terms, but it’s a grim, sometimes-terrifying story beneath the shiny castles and princesses of her coded tale. Her artistic gift helps her see and make sense of that fractured world. There are many kinds of gifts in this novel, beginning with the Statue of Liberty, given by the people of France to the people of America, a gift that sets in motion the plot of Deborah’s Gift. And for those who delight in language, there are little, wrapped surprises on nearly every page.”
AnetteMat on LibraryThing wrote:
“Lois Ann Abraham has created a fully-realized fascinating character in Deborah. We see the world and its disasters and delights through Abraham's sensory prose and Deborah’s artistic eyes. I could smell the turpentine and feel the paint under her nails. Deborah appreciates what she calls the ‘luxury of being a single woman who makes enough from her art to cover expenses and then some’ during a time when women’s options were limited to what men told them what they were allowed to dream. A compelling and important story.”
I did not know anything about Martinique before reading this novel. The description of the volcanic eruption of Mt Pelee in 1902 and the catastrophic effects of it on Deborah and others makes for very compelling reading. I especially enjoyed how her current and future life as an artist was influenced by this and earlier personal tragedies. The descriptions of her paintings are very detailed, creating a vivid image in the mind. it is also interesting in that the book visits various places she lived - New York, St Louis, New Mexico, and of course, Martinique. A very good read.