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"The Age of Light" by Whitney Scharer; Little, Brown & Co., (384 pages, $28).

"The Age of Light" by Whitney Scharer; Little, Brown & Co., (384 pages, $28). (Hachette Book Group/TNS)

"The Age of Light" by Whitney Scharer; Little, Brown & Co., (384 pages, $28)

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Lee Miller was only 22 when she plunged into the surrealism that was 1929 Paris. Her beauty had made her a successful model in New York, but she wanted to chuck all that. "She has come to start over, to make art instead of being made into it," author Whitney Scharer says in this historical fiction. Before long, Miller will meet Surrealist photographer/painter Man Ray, an established artist 17 years her senior. She will become his studio assistant, his lover, his muse and, eventually, his rival.

It's the stuff of romance novels, but it's true. Miller's tempestuous real life - from abused child to shellshocked war correspondent - is tailor-made for historical fiction. For her debut novel, Scharer wisely focuses on the formative years that Miller spent with Ray. Miller absorbs all Ray can teach about camera and darkroom techniques. Ray introduces her to avant-garde celebrities such as Jean Cocteau. A steamy darkroom scene cements their interdependence.

But as Miller develops her own art, tensions build. "Nothing huge, just a crack in the sidewalk, with her on one side and him on the other," she thinks as she prepares to appease him again. Readers watching her mind at work may be tempted to say, "Oh, grow up!" But Miller's dilemma illustrates the pressures that many ambitious young women face in their love and work lives.

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