The Woman in the Photo
Genre: Historical, Mystery
Paperback: 432 Pages
Publication: June 14, 2016
by William Morrow
1888: Elizabeth Haberlin, of the Pittsburgh Haberlins, spends every summer with her family on a beautiful lake in an exclusive club. Nestled in the Allegheny Mountains above the working class community of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the private retreat is patronized by society’s elite. Elizabeth summers with Carnegies, Mellons, and Fricks, following the rigid etiquette of her class. But Elizabeth is blessed (cursed) with a mind of her own. Case in point: her friendship with Eugene Eggar, a Johnstown steel mill worker. And when Elizabeth discovers that the club’s poorly maintained dam is about to burst and send 20 million tons of water careening down the mountain, she risks all to warn Eugene and the townspeople in the lake’s deadly shadow.
Present day: On her 18th birthday, genetic information from Lee Parker’s closed adoption is unlocked. She also sees an old photograph of a genetic relative—a 19th century woman with hair and eyes likes hers—standing in a pile of rubble from an ecological disaster next to none other than Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross. Determined to identify the woman in the photo and unearth the mystery of that captured moment, Lee digs into history. Her journey takes her from California to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, from her present financial woes to her past of privilege, from the daily grind to an epic disaster. Once Lee’s heroic DNA is revealed, will she decide to forge a new fate?
Novels that intertwine past and present have the potential to build a world and help us understand how a family has come to be in the present situation. The Taste of Appleseeds by Katharina Hagena and The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende are two fantastic examples of novels that do this well. The Woman in the Photo had the potential to do the same, but the execution and writing fell short of my expectations for a literary work. That said, some readers may enjoy this novel as one to pass away the time.