Sunday, August 3, 2008

Where is Heather Jasmine?

A Peculiar Graceis a haunting novel about Hewitt Pearce, a taciturn New Englander. When confronted with an old man beaten to death with his own firewood, a girl raped and kicked (everywhere but where it shows), a cat run over by the mail truck, a young wife and daughter burned to death, and other betrayals and misfortunes too numerous to recount, Hewitt presents a flat affect, unflappable, eerily detached. After the constable prefaced the retelling of a horrific murder with "I thought I was gonna to puke again just telling you," Hewitt replies, "You know anything else yet?"

Strangely, Hewitt restraint and reserve, had the opposite effect on me. As the novel unfurled, I became more emotional and involved, not with disconnections of the Hewitt and the people traveling through his isolated Vermont farm, but with my own disconnections. In each chapter I was drawn back to my estranged daughter, either lost or not communicating or angry or not interested. At this point Hewitt would talk about the weather or the garden, but I just got sad and wondered if there was something else to feel.

A Peculiar Grace opens slowly, but gradually grabs the reader into its world of lost dreams and lost loves. Jeffrey Lent seamlessly weaves flashbacks with narratives giving a dream-like quality to the story that matches Hewitt's tenuous emotional connection to his own existence. As Hewitt imagines that his understands or doesn't care, the reader is entwined more deeply into his life, almost in an effort to balance Hewitt's nonchalance.

"I don't try to understand it but decided a long time ago, the only thing in this life worth much to me are the things most people pass by."

This books is one of those things.

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