Minding the Light
In this novel of Nantucket life in the 17th century, author Suzanne Woods Fisher fashions a realistic and quiet tale of Daphne Coffin, a Quaker maid, and her surrounding family and in-laws. The day Daphne’s brother-in-law, Reynolds Macy, returns from a six-year whaling voyage, his wife, Daphne’s sister Jane, collapses. From there, the lives of Daphne and Reynolds are spun down a tunnel of uncertainty, change, and conflict. This is exacerbated by the presence on the island of Abraham, Reynolds’ choice of first mate and an escaped slave. Themes of family grievances, slavery, and intolerance are set against the backdrop of journal entries from Daphne’s great-aunt.
Undertones of seeking and finding the Light within the Quaker circles are juxtaposed against the truth of the human spirit, greed, and cruelty. Many of the author’s characters are flawed and add interest and depth to the novel, though the main characters can sometimes serve as a flat surface for the action to play out. Still, readers will likely find a bit of themselves in Daphne and Ren’s personalities. Extra points for some surprises at the end of the novel, which are very deftly executed.