Review

About Grace

by Anthony Doerr



David Winkler is a 32-year-old hydrologist leading a fairly boring
life in Anchorage, Alaska. Since childhood, he has experienced
dreams that occasionally turn out to be actual premonitions. The
most vivid one involves a man cut in half by a bus. Despite his
mother's best attempts to avoid any incidents (she keeps him home
for several days after he confides the dream), it comes to pass
that, after shopping for groceries on a Saturday, he witnesses a
man --- carrying the same hatbox as in his dream --- keeping his
inevitable date with the bus of destiny.


In the dream that most affects his adult life, he watches a woman
drop a magazine in a store and he picks it up for her. Eventually,
he picks up the magazine for one Sandy Sheeler --- a woman he knows
he will fall in love with, a woman he semi-stalks for several
months, whose magazine he keeps and reads until the pages are
tattered, a woman who is married.


Their affair begins with afternoon movie matinees and stretches
into Wednesday evenings spent in his apartment as her husband has
hockey on those nights. Before long, she becomes pregnant and,
since her husband has been deemed infertile, it is obviously
David's. They run away together and end up in Cleveland where David
has found a job with a TV station as the staff meteorologist and
Sandy fulfills an artist's dream by constructing large, elaborate
metal sculptures in the basement of their little tract house by a
feeder creek of the Chagrin River.


David's baby daughter, Grace, is born, and as babies tend to do,
she changes his life in completely unexpected ways. His happiness
and contentedness are palpable as he counts the minutes at work
until he can go home to watch his little girl sleep and watch his
wife (because, despite not being divorced from her husband, they
have married) toiling over her art. All is well.


Then he has a dream. He dreams of a long, rainy spell in Ohio, one
that swells rivers to flood stage and even causes creeks to rise.
He dreams of his house, deserted and filling with water, seemingly
empty as he runs room to room, yet he knows this cannot be because
he can hear a baby crying. He finds Grace and stumbles outside with
her only to be met by a wall of water that sweeps them both away.
He awakes. He cannot shake the dream and it stirs his old
sleepwalking habit. It gets so bad that his wife will shake him
awake in the driveway, sitting in the car with the baby on the
seat, having just returned from driving to where or from neither of
them have any idea. In addition to panicking about whether his
dream will come true, he now panics about what he himself might do
to his daughter in his sleep.


Ultimately, the dream comes true. It rains and rains. It floods. He
spirits his family off to a motel. But after leaving them there and
being sent away by Sandy out of fear of his sleepwalking, he
returns to the house after attempting to call the motel and getting
no answer. His street, neighborhood and home look exactly like the
scene of his dream, and unable to go any further, he runs to his
car and literally runs away.


David ends up in St. Vincent for 25 years. He becomes a laborer,
then handyman, at a local resort he helps build. He is adopted as a
strange, white uncle by an island family, whose daughter forms an
unusual bond of the soul with him. He writes letters upon letters
to Sharon, trying to find out if Grace is alive or if the entire
dream became a reality. His simple life on the island is appealing
and satisfying, yet his hunger for information on his daughter
finally drives him back to the United States where he tracks down
Sharon Sheelers and Grace Winklers from state to state until he
ends up back where he started in Alaska. Ironically, his island
"niece," Naaliyah, ended up in Alaska (partly due to the college
recommendations he wrote for her) and he manages to find her out in
the bush where she is preparing to spend the winter studying the
hibernation tendencies of insects. They eventually return to the
city where he finds answers to the big questions that have been
haunting him for most of his life.


It would be easy to scorn David Winkler. It would be easy to call
him a "little" man; a man who ran away from his responsibilities
and duties; a man who left a "wife" and baby daughter one day and
never came back. However, there is a much larger issue at hand.
This is a man who really thought that his presence in his
daughter's life was jeopardizing her safety. His wife even thought
so. If this premonition didn't come to full fruition, then what
about the next one he might have? Or the one after that? It is
heart-wrenching to put oneself in these shoes; and it is
heart-wrenching to watch him deal with this day in and day out for
so long. In the end, it seems to make a very strong argument for
the case that parental love in absentia perhaps can be just as
strong as if the parent were present.


I highly recommend ABOUT GRACE --- it is beautifully written, has a
quiet suspense that carries it right along, and a main character in
David Winkler who the reader will come to admire and respect as a
father, a father figure, and a man.


   


















Reviewed by Jamie Layton on December 22, 2010

About Grace
by Anthony Doerr

  • Publication Date: September 27, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)
  • ISBN-10: 0143036165
  • ISBN-13: 9780143036166