Sultan’s short novel focuses on Helen Keller (1880–1968) and her romance with newspaperman Peter Fagan. In a story of defeated love and familial obligations, the author’s portrait is of an unlikely heroine who finally burgeons into a fully-fledged sexual being when she falls into an extraordinary affair that is eventually denied her by time and by circumstance.
In an age where women are just learning the value of birth control, a frustrated, contradictory woman is often haunted by her own fame.
Only Helen’s prestigious Radcliffe education can prepare her for her journey out into a harsh and unforgiving landscape. A post-Victorian woman who preaches free love, Helen is ironically denied this passion by her loyal companion Anne Sullivan, who refuses to let Helen have the chance to have a man as her own.
Free at last from the burning Alabama sun, Helen travels the country with Anne, her world sodden with a daylight that “weighs more heavily on her skin more than any blindness ever could.” Helen can’t go back home to her
mother and sister Mildred, so she stays busy raising money for the blind and deaf while also working to stay financially afloat. Living in a tangle of white and dark, a world of “deep fog,” we finally see the emotional struggles of a woman who must come to terms with what the fates have thrust upon her.
While war in Europe rages on, America continues to remain neutral. Helen’s lectures--full of opinions about politics, world events and socialism--urge Americans to stop President Wilson from entering “this foolish waste of life.”
Both Allied and German soldiers blinded in battle write, desperate for Helen’s help. Peter unexpectedly arrives in Appleton, Wisconsin, proving to be the miracle that Helen is unprepared to meet.
Trapped and frustrated from her years with only Anne as her companion, it’s not surprising that Helen sets her heart on Peter, positive he’ll banish all of her negative thoughts and fulfill her deeper cravings for sexual intimacy.
Helen inhales typewriter ink, cigarette smoke, and the strange muskrat smell that she always associates with men. Annie tells her that’s Peter
is dark-haired and handsome with an unbuttoned shirt, but he also has a “shifty look” of a person ready to flee. Still, Helen can’t help but be besotted by this man’s sunny disposition. She sees a kindred spirit all too ready and willing to support her lost causes: the fight for socialism and for the rights of the working poor.
Although a bit dialog-stiff, Sultan’s story carefully builds Helen and Peter's affair, layering their more intimate scenes into an evolving bond of love and connection. With everything told through Helen’s sense of touch, we painstakingly feel Peter’s scent: muskrat, hot rain and tar.
Lover and muse wade deep into the sparkling waters of Kings Pond at her home in Wrentham, Massachusetts,
and all that is sexually pent-up inside Helen finally comes alive.
No betrayal is greater than another person deciding what Helen should know. Courageous, brave, and possessed with a fiery intelligence, no one is going to tell Helen how she should perceive the world--neither her mother nor Anne. While the heartbreaking climax of Sultan’s story comes as no surprise, the author doesn’t shy from Helen's internal quandary: how eagerly and recklessly she's willing to let go of her obligations to Anne and to herself. In her blindness and deafness, Helen proved that she was an equal, yet from the time she was a young woman, no one could ever accept her having a lover.
Thoughtful yet passionate, Sultan treats Helen’s battle between filial duty and sensual pleasure evenhandedly and with great sensitivity, steering us through the minefield of betrayal to a hoped-for marriage, to a manipulative family, who in their ignorance, arrogance and selfishness cruelly sabotage Helen’s journey in following her heart’s desire.