Wednesday, April 09, 2008

About Grace by Anthony Doerr

Doerr is one of my favorite fiction writers for his use of language. And this novel maintains, for hundreds of pages, the precision of his best short stories, "The Shell Collector" and "The Hunter's Wife." It also interestingly enough combines the two locales of those stories--the Caribbean and someplace cold and snowy.

And it's got a pretty genius premise for keeping you hooked. The protagonist has dreams that reveal the future (usually innocuous things like a dropped glass of ice tea, but once, as a child, a premonition of a man losing his head to a bus). Toward the the start of the novel he dreams that his baby daughter drowns in his arms in a flood. So when it starts raining--and raining--and raining--he flees. And his fled wife won't tell him if the baby lives or dies and he is too afraid to go home and find out. For twenty-three years. For twenty-three years, hanging over his plot (which goes in various directions), is the question of did his daughter live or die. It's a very effective page-turning-device in an otherwise lyric, quiet novel.

But what I wanted to mention is how the novel does one of my mom's favorite things--teaches you something. The protagonist is a hydrologist--and water in all its forms makes for lovely metaphors even when you are describing it literally. So reading along you learn things about snow and ice and rivers and sea creatures, all while the metaphoric subtext of those literal descriptions ekes its way into your heart. A good example of the emotional embedded in the physical.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi. I just came across your blog by accident while searching for information about another book and happened to notice your recent comments about Anthony Doerr's "About Grace," which, by coincidence, I finished only days ago.

It was the only book of his I hadn't read, mostly due to the mixed reviews it received. I finally decided to read it after picking up a remaindered copy of "Four Seasons in Rome" and being reminded of how beautifully he writes, partiicularly about nature. During his year in Rome he's reading the Natural History, AD 77, by Pliny the Elder.

"About Grace" took me a few weeks to finish but I thought it picked up during the last hundred pages once his search gets on track. I think what it's lacking in plot is made up for by the quality of the writing which is extraordinary.

In "Four Seasons" he describes his new novel which I look forward to as well.

Anyway, those are my one-time-only comments.
Thank you!


PS I think the title story in The Shell Collector is set somewhere in Africa, based on the description of the father of the sick girl.