Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Carousel Painter by Judith Miller - Book Review

"First, I'd need to decide exactly what colors I wanted to use and where I wanted to begin. I walked around the horse and considered my choices. I'd begin with the center of the roses and use the same color on the jester's hat--or perhaps I should begin by shading the nostrils and eyes." - The Carousel Painter by Judith Miller

Carrington Brouwer finds herself in a difficult position. Her father, a skilled but poor painter, dies and leaves her without money or home. When she receives an invitation to live in the home of a close friend, Augusta, (one of her father's former students), she accepts and moves from France to the state of Ohio. Unfortunately, she clashes with Augusta's mother and decides that she must move on, despite the improbability of finding well-paying work as a woman in 1890. Thankfully, fate intervenes. She is given the rare chance to work in Augusta's father's carousel factory as a painter but, as the only female employee, encounters unfair treatment and discrimination. And just as she begins to befriend Josef, the factory manager, she finds herself the main suspect in a jewelry theft. As the struggles in the factory mount and suspicion swirls, she finds strength in the Lord and kindness in unexpected places.

Carousels have this sort of romantic quality and allure. Vintage carousels often show remarkable craftsmanship with their intricate carvings and beautifully painted animals. Circling round and round on a magical journey to the chiming music--there is joy in every carousel ride. My daughter rode on the carousel by herself for the first time this year and couldn't stop smiling. My son, on the other hand, rode with me on a bench and did not especially appreciate the experience. Perhaps he was too young or maybe the motion made him ill, because he couldn't wait for the ride to stop so he could exit as quickly as possible. Still he loved gazing at the animals.

Reading Judith Miller's book The Carousel Painter evoked the same kind of response, at least for me. The cover design is gorgeous and alluring and the story romantic and full of promise, with well thought out characters and a wonderful, historic background. Yet, there were times when I wanted to get off the ride and move on because the mystery seemed a little too clunky and the inspirational parts felt slightly forced. What I found most compelling about this book besides the obvious historical information about carousels was Miller's portrayal of the difficulties and discrimination Carrie encountered as a woman working in an all male workplace.
"Not because it's you, Carrie, but because you are a woman. Some of the men are superstitious about women in the workplace. Some say they are uncomfortable having a woman around -- they must watch every word they say. Others believe men are entitled to factory jobs because they have families to support." [page 118]
Had Miller used this struggle as the center of Carrie's need for spiritual assistance and growth, rather than relying on an anticlimactic mystery, she possibly could have created a powerful and more realistic novel. That said, the well-researched story entertained me and introduced me to the wonderful world of carousel carving. I appreciated the setting, and I'd love the chance to read another historical fiction novel on the fascinating topic! Bethany House books, while typically marketed toward the adult audience, are also appropriate for teens as an alternative to the oftentimes more racy YA genre.

The Carousel Painter by Judith Miller. Bethany House (September 2009); ISBN 9780764202797; 336 pages; Book Source: Review copy provided by publisher


Kristi said...

Love the cover of the book - I hadn't thought much about the history of carousel's, but sounds like it might be an interesting book to read. Thanks for the review.