As I mention in the introduction to my interview with Tiffany Reisz, historical novels—and, for that matter, history books and the research that gives rise to them—are a kind of time travel. As readers and writers, we can celebrate the allure of the past, including the thrill of immersing ourselves in situations, once common, that we probably don’t want to give up our modern conveniences to experience firsthand. Authors, too, enjoy certain advantages in writing about the past: plot twists that require serious explanation in the age of cell phones and DNA testing come into their own before the development of police forces, never mind chemistry labs.
But there remains, for authors even more than readers, that nagging question: did we get it right? And for those of us in the “business,” the prospect of answering that question, more than anything else, accounts for the attraction of time travel. To go back to our chosen period of history, to see it for ourselves, hear it and smell it, encounter the full range of possible behavior—but then, we hope, snap back to the present before we have to deal with premodern medicine, derogatory attitudes toward women and minorities, or even unwashed bodies—that is a novelist’s, a historian’s, or a reader’s dream.
The Night Mark raises a slightly different set of questions: What would it take for a twenty-first-century woman to give up the present entirely and choose to live out the rest of her life in the past? What kind of woman would make that choice? What does she lose, what does she gain, and what must she settle in herself before she can decide?
Tiffany Reisz is a self-aware and engaging conversationalist, and she tackles these questions head on. So take a listen—as always, the interviews are free—and ask yourself whether you would make the same choice her heroine does. I’m not sure I would. Love is great, of course, but so are antibiotics and electricity ...
The rest of this post comes from New Books in Historical Fiction.
So many people hope to find the perfect soul mate, but suppose you do, only to lose the person you love just as your life together is getting off to a beautiful start? Faye Barlow reacts by tumbling into a new marriage with her first husband’s best friend. After all, the bills pile ever higher, and her husband’s unborn child can’t come into the world without health insurance. The best friend is eager to help, but as time goes by, they both realize it takes more than need and a shared but unexpressed grief to make a partnership. Faye leaps at the chance to resume her career as a photographer, and as she travels around South Carolina’s coastal islands, her mourning finds an outlet and hope creeps back into her life.
In the old town of Beaufort, she encounters the legend of a lighthouse keeper’s daughter who drowned as a young woman. Compelled to learn more, Faye finds a photograph in the town archives and discovers that the lighthouse keeper looked just like her first, lost husband. She feels drawn to the lighthouse, and while visiting it at night, she is literally pulled into the past. But the year 1921 poses many challenges to a girl from the future accustomed to buying her food in plastic packages from the supermarket, storing it in a refrigerator, and cooking it on modern appliances. No antibiotics, no traffic laws, no electricity on the island, no equal treatment for women or people of color. Yet there is the lighthouse keeper, with his resemblance to Faye’s lost love. Will she stay? Can she stay? And what difficult tasks must she perform before she has a choice?
In The Night Mark (Mira Books, 2017) Tiffany Reisz has created a beautiful tale of love, loss, and recovery when life seems to offer nothing but shoals—except for that steady, pulsing beam of light in the dark.