Published by Grand Central Publishing on 6/3/2014
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At the age of two, scarlet fever steals all but Laura Bridgman’s sense of touch. At seven, she is taken to the Perkins Institute, where she is placed under the direct care of Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe and is taught to read, write and sign. Before long, news of Laura’s miraculous abilities spreads, making her one of the most famous women of the nineteenth century. But alone in her thoughts, Laura questions herself, the role of god and her possibilities for the future.
From her meeting with Helen Keller in the first pages back to her childhood with Dickens and Dorthea Dix, What Is Visible is peppered with a historical who’s who. But despite her famous visitors, the novel’s most compelling character is Laura Bridgman herself. Feisty, whip-smart and witty, Laura alternates between moments of unfailing self-confidence and harrowing self-pity as she watches the world evolve around her. Elkins crawls into Laura’s mind while also digging deep into the issues that impacted those at the Perkins Institute and in the country as a whole.
“…ravage the soft pulp of the baked aubergines, and burrow both fists into pie I will never know the sweetness of. Soak the whole feast in milk. The only delights of food for me are in its destruction, and so it disappoints me that I can no longer indulge my play now, not at my age and not at my station in life as the world’s most famous woman…”
Despite what Laura lacks, the novel is lush with sensory images. Laura’s sense of touch is magnified tenfold, which Elkins captures as clearly as Laura’s desire to taste, see and hear. Through her fingertips, What Is Visible fills the spaces between the lines of Laura Bridgman’s history with the story of a vibrantly real, endlessly fascinating young woman.