Forty-three-year-old Hewitt Pearce is a blacksmith content with
living alone in his family home in rural Vermont, where he watches
over his late father's artwork and pounds hot iron to create custom
ironwork for clients of his choosing. Except for occasional visits
with neighbors and a few friends, he minds his own business and
expects others to do the same.
Then, one morning in early June, when "the sun was up over the
eastern ridge and striking the top of the western ridge, the young
leaves of the treeline illuminated more golden than green,
glowing," Hewitt decides to check out a vehicle that had passed
through his yard in the middle of the night.
After driving his old red Farmall tractor into the woods, he
discovers a Volkswagen Beetle with a Mississippi license plate. The
crudely handpainted Beetle is sitting in the middle of the road and
is packed full of clothes and belongings. Nearby, a young woman
with black hair, badly cropped, sits perched on a rock in front of
a small fire. Jessica is out of gas, out of money and on her way to
Texas. Her pretty voice is "deep but dragging sweet over the
syllables as if words others took for granted were savored and
valued throughout their possible peaks and valleys."
Jessica is a confused, fragile waif, yet she knows how to handle a
car being towed. After Hewitt removes the Beetle from the woods, he
feels a strange connection with her and convinces her to stay with
him until she is able to move on. At first, her untamed ways and
unsettling presence upset the gentle balance of his artistic and
hermetic way of life. But he slowly becomes accustomed to having
her around and discovers how much his solitary existence has
prevented him from enjoying everyday companionship.
Hewitt's life becomes even more unsettled after he learns that
Emily, his first love and the woman with whom he once lived in a
commune, is now a widow. He tries to reconnect with Emily to ask
her forgiveness for a long-ago transgression and is surprised when
he discovers that Emily's life isn't what it appears to be. He is
torn between pursuing the love he lost and always hoped to regain
and his growing attachment to the unpredictable and mysterious
As he gradually uncovers the reason for Jessica's secrecy and state
of mind, Hewitt feels an even stronger connection to her but is
shocked when he learns from her a secret related to a tragic loss
suffered by his father decades earlier.
Hewitt and Jessica are intriguing and complex protagonists, but
secondary characters also shine: Walter, the disabled Vietnam
veteran and loyal friend; Mary Margaret, Hewitt's strong-willed,
Irish-immigrant mother; and Thomas, Hewitt's long-deceased father
whose influence, along with his art, is not far from reach.
Like Hewitt, the blacksmith who pounds hot iron to shape intricate
works of art from his unique vision, author Jeffrey Lent uses his
distinctive writer's voice to craft a painfully elegant story about
love, art and second chances that is a joy to behold and one that
is not easily forgotten.
Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt (firstname.lastname@example.org) on January 14, 2011
A Peculiar Grace