The Visionist was a difficult novel for me. I am a novice at writing fiction—there’s that. Much of the book is composed in a kind of patois that combines language and cadences from another era with a more contemporary manner of speaking. It attempts to describe what I came to regard as the New England magic realism of Shaker worship. And it takes place in a hard-hearted world, where the characters are burdened by pasts they may or may not be able to overcome.
It also wrestles with fairly dark themes, many of which resonate today. The pull between individual expression and subservience to the community; the power of faith to both uplift and destroy; the misplacement of belief; the tendency to mistake extremism for religious purity; the price of living a lie; and, last but not least, the potential for chaos when groups of isolated teenage girls become infected with a kind of contagious hysteria seen the world over from long before the time of the Salem witch trials right through to today, in the behavior of a group of cheerleaders in Le Roy, New York, a small town not far from Buffalo.
But analyzing one’s own novel is a tricky business—a job best left to other people, should they feel so inclined. In fact, while I was writing The Visionist, a wise friend told me not to think about themes. She said that if I concentrated on telling a good story through characters that rang true, the larger meaning would, as if by alchemy, make itself known. I’ve tried to live up to the challenge of that advice.