Grace

Another entry on my not-white-male reading list, Grace was sent to me by my mother.  She works at a little independent bookstore in West Michigan, one that takes its literature fairly seriously (or at least she does).  So often I’ll get Mom Picks in the mail, and often they’re good.  This one was… pretty good.

I’d never heard of this book or this author before, but my mom has good taste in books, so I gave it a shot.  The narrator is a former war correspondent, now pushing forty, jaded with the career he’s made out of covering death and tragedy.  He finds himself adrift after quitting, and the whole plot of this novel is essentially his track through various attempts at finding meaning in his life again.  He bounces around romantic relationships, work projects, continents, and while there’s not much that actually happens (except near the end), his journey is a framework for existential musings and conversations with himself and the people he encounters.

This is the strength of the book.  Many of these vignettes are beautiful and insightful, and Baker’s at his best here when he lets the characters speak in those places.  Many are essentially mouthpieces for various views, attitudes, philosophies – but Baker does such a good job on a word- and sentence-level that I don’t even care.  They’re beautiful mouthpieces.  Just one example:  an aging, hedonistic filmmaker with whom the narrator attempts to work with throughout the book says, in the course of a conversation early on, “Tell me what you judge, and I will tell you what you fear.”  There are nuggets of wisdom such as this throughout the book, and it’s worth a read just for those.

Eventually, the plot takes the narrator back to a war-torn area of Africa similar to ones he used to write about, and the book ends in a flurry of action which seems out of place with the rest.  The last pages, though, find the narrator adrift on a lake, rowing toward a distant hope of shore.  It’s a scene fitting and beautiful to wrap up a novel that is all drifting and rowing: the shore is not the point so much as what one does when on the lake.

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