Working with Available Light

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In Working with Available Light: A Family’s World After Violence, Jamie Kalven bares his soul. He chronicles life in the Kalven household following the brutal sexual assault of his wife, Patsy Evans. Patsy was viciously attacked while running along the Chicago lakefront, a run she had made many times.

Kalven explores the impact this single, senseless act of violence has, not only on Patsy, but on their family, and the wider community. Following the attack, Patsy, a self-confident photographer, loving mother, and contented wife, is left bewildered, insecure, and frightened. For a time, Patsy is unable to work in the darkroom that she loves. Years after the physical scars have healed, she is paralyzed by fear.

Her plight acutely disrupts her family, as their perceptions of the world as a safe place are forever shattered. The title refers to Patsy’s use of photography to help her cope with assault, while also reflecting her ongoing conflicts with personal demons, the recurring flashbacks and nightmares that plague her for years, as she fights to regain her life, and her sense of self.

Kalven is candid in his appraisal of the damage done to his family. The ripple effects are widespread and ongoing. This is a loving chronology of a husband’s coming to terms with his maleness, of shattered trust and lost innocence, of young children accepting the reality of evil in their lives. It is a tribute to Patsy Evans, as she rebuilds her life. It is a grueling process, and the reader shares it fully. Kalven’s descriptions are gripping; his prose horrifying, and gentle. All involved in the recovery process are “working with available light,” using their internal resources and external supports to carry on.

Years later, Patsy runs along the lakefront by herself, but never alone. She is always accompanied by the unknown stranger in the brush.