Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

"About Grace" by Anthony Doerr (Harper Perennial, 2005)

David is haunted by recurrent dreams. Some turn out to be premonitions. When the dreams predict a death he burns all boats trying to save a life. But sometimes the dreams are only dreams. I thought initially that this gift of his might make the plot too SF-ish. The events aren't frequent though - they help introduce memory and destiny as themes. Water - floods, oceans, clouds and snow - is another theme. He flees from problems. At the end he seeks his wife and daughter.

There are bursts of description - e.g. p.195

Flight attendants collected cups and newspapers; passengers levered their seats forward. From the window he watched the city of Miami assemble itself: antennas and rooftops gliding into view, two trucks like toys curling through a freeway exit, a green band of smog hovering over the shoreline. A crowded marina scrolled past, each boat's windshield in turn reflecting the sun.

or this on p.316

Graves were adorned with American flags or plastic wreaths or nothing at all. New saplings had been planted in the dead midpoint of several plots, aspens, spruce, a few dogwoods. From the branch of one dangled a miniature biplane fashioned from pieces of Budweiser cans, rotating slowly on its tether of monofilament

Remembrance is easily provoked. On receiving a letter from someone starting at university (p.189), he goes to the beach -

He went to sea one last time in a rowboat. He lay across the thwarts and felt the water raise the boat and set it back down, and stared at the sky a long time.
The day he left for college his father had waited on the landing, a string of smoke rising from a cigarette in his fingers. ... This was how he had finished out his days: brokenhearted; smoke suspended around him like grief; settling into the rituals of newspaper stories - lost hunters, plane crashes, basketball scores - wheeling dollies of milk into the backs of stores.
He turned the boat and rowed back. The sun was over Souriere and the sea was drenched with light. He paused a minute and feathered the oars and let them drip.

It's not until p.304 that we learn about his mother's deathbed scene, which brings together snow, animals, windows and loss.

It's a page-turner, though in retrospect the section set in winter in an Alaskan hut could have been edited away. At the end the threads are brought together in a rush, novelistically.

Other reviews

  • Kirkus Review (But it’s much too long, and is significantly marred by its climactic momentum toward a reconciliation that simply isn’t very credible. Its protagonist’s loneliness, regret, and guilt are painfully palpable, and go a long way toward making this risky book work - but, in the end, aren’t enough.)
  • Publisher's Weekly (This is a lyrical tale tuned a bit too fine: Doerr's dreamy prose accords more attention to nature than character, so that Winkler, transfixed by the wonders of water and snowflakes but singularly unreflective about his actual life, is a frustratingly opaque protagonist. There are gorgeous moments here, but a stifling lack of story)
  • Neel Mukherjee (New York Times) (too much brightness dazzles and distracts, and the wall of luminous prose almost fences off the reader's heart, something Doerr clearly wants to sway. A writer as dizzyingly talented and as generous as Doerr should be confident enough to do away with some of the more blinding fireworks)

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