Slipping in and out of nightclubs and salons, among the galleries and cafes, Miller and Ray inhabit the smoky pre-war Bohemian society, alongside characters like Jean Cocetau, Salvador Dali, and Ray’s former lover, Kiki of Montparnasse. Can you even imagine?! What a time to be alive and fall in love, tossing aside his hat and letting your silk slip drop onto the floor, to make love in the early morning hours, drunk on champagne and exhausted from esoteric party games.
Man says she has the most beautiful eyes he’s ever seen. But then he says that about her eyes and her ears and her skin and even her snaggly front teeth. When she admits to him that she hates her teeth, he tells her he loves them, rubs his finger along their surface, licks them with his tongue. In a way it is the most intimate thing he has ever done with her.
In this circle of creative greats, Miller could simply be an ingenue, in her matte red lipstick and clinging to Man Ray’s crooked arm, but Miller is an inchoate artist herself, always watching the other artists, Parisians, and weirdos. She walks around Paris with her camera and is encouraged as she learns darkroom techniques from Ray and from the accidental discoveries she makes herself.
The Age of Light is about the partnership of two talented people, but most importantly, it’s the feminist story of a young woman discovering how she is enough. Miller is not to be defined by the childhood abuse she suffered or her relationship to a powerful man — a man who will eventually betray her by stealing her work in his own fit of desperation for accolades and to remain relevant to the art scene.
Man Ray is a powerful force, but Miller is a roiling swirl of talent, beauty, and lust. Miller doesn’t hide her jealousies, especially those directed towards Ray’s his former lover Kiki, an addled and brash music performer years beyond her prime. While Kiki wears her volatility like a crown, Lee is more private and cunning with hers.
Jean holds out his hands. “You want my thoughts? You slept with Caruso because Caruso is a beautiful man and you’re a beautiful women. You’re young and figuring things out. Tell Man Ray or don’t tell him. It’s up to you. But don’t make yourself feel bad for what you did. Nothing good comes from that. You’re an artist. Artists crave experiences because that’s how they make art.”
In her debut novel, Scharer gives us the mercurial aspects of love and relationship in the truest fashion, deftly showing us the push and pull of attraction. Too often, authors ignore the “push,” the sometimes repulsion we feel for our lovers. Miller is falling in love with an imperfect human and that breeds doubt and moments of dislike in all of us. Sharer writes the heart and mind of young woman so well, it’s further proof that we need more women telling the stories of women.
Sharer never shames Miller for being open and taking full advantage of her youth and beauty in heady Paris. A woman can be sexual and indulgent. A woman can be hungry and vengeful, while being a friend and a worker. Sharer knows these complexities exist, and with Elizabeth “Lee” Miller, she serves them to the reader without flinching.