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Painting the Light: A Novel

From the critically acclaimed author of Monticello and The Widow’s War comes a vividly rendered historical novel of love, loss, and reinvention, set on Martha’s Vineyard at the end of the nineteenth century.

Martha’s Vineyard, 1898. In her first life, Ida Russell had been a painter. Five years ago, she had confidently walked the halls of Boston’s renowned Museum School, enrolling in art courses that were once deemed “unthinkable” for women to take, and showing a budding talent for watercolors.

But no more. Ida Russell is now Ida Pease, resident of a seaside farm on Vineyard Haven, and wife to Ezra, a once-charming man who has become an inattentive and altogether unreliable husband. Ezra runs a salvage company in town with his business partner, Mose Barstow, but he much prefers their nightly card games at the local pub to his work in their Boston office, not to mention filling haystacks and tending sheep on the farm at home—duties that have fallen to Ida and their part-time farmhand, Lem. Ida, meanwhile, has left her love for painting behind.

It comes as no surprise to Ida when Ezra is hours late for a Thanksgiving dinner, only to leave abruptly for another supposedly urgent business trip to Boston. But then something unthinkable happens: a storm strikes and the ship carrying Ezra and Mose sinks.

In the wake of this shocking tragedy, Ida must settle the affairs of Ezra’s estate, a task that brings her to a familiar face from her past—Henry Barstow, Mose’s brother and executor. As she joins Henry in sifting through the remnants of her husband’s life and work, Ida must learn to separate truth from lies and what matters from what doesn’t.

Captured in rich, painterly prosepiercing as a coastal gale and shimmering as sunlight on the waves—Painting the Light is an arresting portrait of a woman, and a considered meditation on grief, persistence, and reinvention.

Sally Cabot Gunning lives in Brewster, Massachusetts, with her husband, Tom. A lifelong resident of New England, she is active in local historical organizations and creates tours that showcase the three-hundred-year history of her village. She is the author of three “Satucket novels” (The Widow’s War, Bound, and The Rebellion of Jane Clarke), as well as the historical novels Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard and Monticello.