Woman Photo

In 1888, the wealthy business tycoons of Pittsburgh retreated to their summer “cottages” at a man-made lake that hung high above Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club counted among its members Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick. Elizabeth Haberlin, one of the book’s two protagonists, is the daughter of one of these monied families. This is the last summer before her debut and she intends to make her mark. She is strong-willed and naive – a dangerous combination.

In present day, Lee Parker is about to turn 18. She has always known she was adopted and always felt a part of her family. On her birthday, a social worker informs her that she can show her some information about her biological mother. In a file is a DNA record that indicates Lee’s mother was Ashkenazi Jew. There is also a cryptic photograph from the late 1800s of a woman standing near the nurse, Clara Barton. Lee determines to solve the mystery of the long-lost relative.

The book has a great set-up. The two main characters have enough in common that the reader can see the parallels and understand why the stories are linked. Each young woman is struggling to become an adult, trapped in the confines of their society. Elizabeth is privileged but no less restless.

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Image of the aftermath of the Johnstown Flood

The 1880s story is much more well drawn, with richer personalities. It feels much more real than the present day story, which seems thrown together with hastily added details to fill it out. The lake, held by a failing dam that the reader knows will burst, figures into the plot of Elizabeth’s story (I often thought the impending disaster was being telegraphed with the subtly of a jack hammer). But for Lee, Hogan creates an infinity pool, high in the LA hills and interaction with it feels forced.  Additionally, the author repeats entire thoughts and phrases verbatim in alternating chapters and it’s not clear if it is a mistake or a heavy-handed effort to tie the two together.

The book also changes its tone about 1/3 of the way through. What began as a standard piece of fiction starts to slide into a young adult book — and not in a good way. Situations become stilted and it takes on a sort of “aw shucks” attitude that reeks of immaturity. What started out with promise, became increasingly frustrating to read.

Thank you to William Morrow for the review copy.
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ISBN: 9780062386939
Imprint: William Morrow Paperbacks
On Sale: 06/14/2016
Trimsize: 5.313 in (w) x 8 in (h) x 0.973 in (d)
Pages: 432
List Price: 15.99 USD

2 thoughts on “ACCENT: THE WOMAN IN THE PHOTO”

    1. Yeah, it begins very strong, then it loses its voice. It tries to become a middle-grade or young adult book, but in a condescending way. I was also disappointed.

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