Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Sally Cabot Gunning's "Painting the Light"

A lifelong resident of New England, Sally Cabot Gunning has immersed herself in its history from a young age. She is the author of six critically acclaimed historically themed novels: The Widow’s War, Bound, The Rebellion of Jane Clarke, Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard, Monticello: A Daughter and Her Father, and her latest novel, Painting the Light. Elected fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society and president of The Brewster Historical Society, she has created numerous historical tours of her village.

Gunning's work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, and an assortment of short story anthologies.

She lives with her husband in Brewster, Massachusetts.

Gunning applied the Page 69 Test to Painting the Light and reported the following:
Page 69 of Painting the Light opens with Ida Pease sitting in a pew listening to her husband Ezra’s eulogy, thinking how poorly it describes the man she thought she knew. Ida has suffered other losses in her life and knows something of grief – in fact she has leapt impulsively into her marriage as a result of those losses -- and sitting in that church she struggles with a painful truth she’s recently unearthed and unwisely shared with her husband’s partner’s brother: that she didn’t like her own husband much. Now Ida must struggle to make peace with that knowledge, and to learn how one grieves in the face of that knowledge.
Ida had always thought of grief as love cast adrift, something that haunted the living heart once it lost its object; she was therefore unsurprised when she could feel none of it sitting in that church. She did feel a hollowness that might be called sadness, but it was a sadness over what she’d let slip away of herself in her years of grief, in her years with Ezra, and she didn't know what to do with that.

Ida was brought out of her reverie as the service closed, as all island services closed, with a reading of Tennyson -- may there be no moaning of the bar when I put out to sea -- which could not by any stretch be said to apply to a man whose last breath had been choked out of him by the frigid November seawater.
This page is a good indicator of one of the larger themes in Painting the Light, although it isn’t the only theme. How do we grieve for someone who has caused us endless pain? How do we stop grieving for someone who hasn’t? How do we find the “light” and learn how to paint it, or in other words, how do we rediscover joy and learn to live it?

On page 69 Ida listens to many descriptions of her husband Ezra that don’t ring true to her, and this hints at another strong theme in the book: how do we sort what is true from what isn’t, what matters from what doesn’t? Ida is an artist; as she strives to understand these things in her art, she strives to understand them in her life. What to keep in her painting? What components, what colors, what textures, are necessary to the whole? How are they best rendered? And what to keep in her life? What – and who – really matters?
Learn more about the author and her work at Sally Cabot Gunning's website.

Q&A with Sally Cabot Gunning.

--Marshal Zeringue