Jill Lepore and Jane Kamensky, friends since graduate school, didn’t plan to write a book. Their project, set in 1760s Boston, was supposed to be a sketch, a playful spoof of two genres: the picaresque, with its rogue hero exposing the hypocrisy around him, and the sentimental epistolary narrative—in this instance, a series of letters from a young “fallen” woman to a friend. Lepore would write a chapter as Stewart Jameson, a portrait painter in exile; then Kamensky would pick up the story in a letter from Miss Fanny Easton. They planned to present the finished product as a gift to their mentor, John Demos, the historian under whom both studied at Yale.
Historians, Ralph Ellison once said, are "responsible liars," but at least they're responsible. Historical novelists, on the other hand, don't let facts get in the way of a good story. But in "Blindspot," to be published next week, two academic historians and long-time friends, Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore, have painted a portrait of pre-Revolutionary Boston that is true to the spirit of the time while inventing a couple of romantic, witty, down-on-their-luck, larger-than-life characters struggling to stay afloat in a tumultuous time. Ms. Kamensky is the chairwoman of Brandeis University's history department; Ms. Lepore is chairwoman of the History and Literature Program at Harvard University and a contributor to the New Yorker magazine. Both have written several works of nonfiction; this is their first novel.