The Light a Body Radiates

Ethel Whitty

Powerful new novel that explores the 1980s AIDS epidemic and its devastating toll on one Cape Breton family.

Eileen MacPherson is a child of eight when her beloved sixteen-year-old brother, Francis, leaves home after a violent family episode. Over the next 25 years, everything she understands to be true changes but she never wavers in her yearning to understand the forces that have torn her family apart. The Light a Body Radiates tells the story of Eileen’s passionate search for explanations in whispered fragments of conversation she overhears whenever she can slip into a room unseen. She gathers a whole storehouse of truths and myths, including her own, that lead her to a deeper understanding of how people, who love each other deeply, can find it impossible to bridge the gulf dividing them.

While navigating the uneven road that leads to becoming a woman, Eileen’s loyalty to family and home is pitted against her desire for love and art and a wider worldview. Along the way, she uncovers the cracks and crevices in her family’s well-defended hearts and minds. The discovery that Francis is gay is only one piece of a larger puzzle-and when, in the end, it is a devastating AIDS diagnosis that brings Francis home, Eileen learns how love can transcend the forces of poverty and culture and distance.

Set in working class Cape Breton, against the backdrop of the 60s revolution, the AIDS epidemic of the 80s, and the “culturally imperative migration” that urged so many away from the places they called home, The Light a Body Radiates is a story that engages powerfully with questions of place, secrets, loyalty, and what it means to “take care of your own.”