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. 

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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.