The first thing you should know about GRACE AT LOW TIDE is that it's a work of literary fiction. The second thing you should know is that it's a work of Christian literary fiction. And the third thing you should know is that it's a work that offers further proof that God has not given up on the Christian publishing industry.
In case I haven't made myself clear, let me do so now: I loved GRACE AT LOW TIDE.
The story is told from the perspective of DeVeaux DeLoach, a teenager whose father, Billy, has suffered one business failure too many. His latest debacle has forced the family to move from their fine home in Charleston to a caretaker's cottage on the grounds of Rose Hill Plantation, which used to be the family plantation. From their new home in the South Carolina low country, the family has a clear view of a multi-million dollar development rising on a nearby island --- the very project that did Billy's business in and sent the family packing for poorer quarters.
If you've ever known a bona fide member of pretentious Southern gentility, the name DeVeaux DeLoach just has to make you chuckle inside. Who else would couple the name DeVeaux with DeLoach but an aristocratic wannabe? And one of those wannabes is named Billy! Oh my. I guess you can take the aristocrat out of the Southerner, but you just can't take the Southerner out of the aristocrat. I love it.
DeVeaux, who has been forced to leave prep school to attend the local high school, now spends her free time waiting tables rather than focusing on those accomplishments that will impress university admissions departments. As the story unfolds, she serves as a highly attached observer as she and her family try to adjust to their deteriorating circumstances. Billy's way of "adjusting," however, involves throwing temper tantrums --- even less attractive for an adult than for a two-year-old --- berating DeVeaux, mocking her mother, and treating those things that the two women love as if it was yesterday's garbage. Which is exactly what some of those things become.
Now to the factors that make this a distinctly Christian novel and why I hope other Christian authors and publishers will sit up and take notice of what the author has done here. DeVeaux's faith is evident throughout the book, in what she says, how she thinks, and what she does, such as attend youth group meetings in Charleston despite the difficulty she sometimes has in getting there. (An aside: There's a brand-new car she could use, but Billy refuses to let anyone, including himself, drive it. The car was a gift, and his pride can't handle that.) What sets Beth Webb Hart apart from many other evangelical authors is her subtle and graceful handling of DeVeaux's faith. There's never the slightest hint of preachiness in this faith-rich story.
Orbiting the DeLoaches' lives are a number of well-drawn characters, like DeVeaux's Cousin Eli, who helps her retain her sanity; the Shuzuki family, who bought Rose Hill and are in the process of renovating it; Maum Bess, Billy's childhood nanny, and her son Chambers, who live nearby; Bethany, the youth group leader; C.C., with whom DeVeaux has her first official date; and several other human characters. But among the leading characters in GRACE AT LOW TIDE is the South Carolina low country, which serves as far more than simply a backdrop to the story.
Hart, the author of this debut novel, is a creative writing teacher and my nominee for Writing Teacher of the Year. I don't know if she teaches at writers' conferences, but I certainly hope so. In fact, I think some of our bestselling Christian novelists ought to be forced to spend a week under her mentorship. This woman is so talented that I'm ready to travel to Charleston so I can take in a few sessions with her.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on November 13, 2011