It is always a happy day when I get a new book by Charles de Lint in my hot little hands, and so I was very excited when my copy arrived for me at my library. This book is not set in Newford, that fictional Canadian city that is the setting of so many of his novels, and it stands alone, not part of a series or recurring characters. It is representative of much of his work, with the Native American, musical, and artistic themes that are central to many of of his books. And yet...and yet...this one is darker and is in some ways a departure from his earlier work.
How to review this one without giving anything away? I try not to include spoilers in my reviews (and I always give warnings for any possible minor spoilage). So I will very brief and very general, and utterly spoiler-free. The book opens with a scene of a man and a woman waking up in bed. Apparently they met the night before at a Halloween party, hit it off, and she ended up coming home with him. But it is not a simple one-night stand. They seem to have found a real connection, something deep and surprising, given the short time they've known each other.
John Barnes is an artist, a talented, handsome, introspective kind of guy, and he has been carrying a load of guilt for years about his little brother's death. It was an accident, but he's always held himself responsible. He finds himself telling Grace about it - and there is the introduction of the theme that is central to the book. Not just death, but how we deal with death, how it affects us, our lives, our actions, and how we somehow manage - or don't manage - to make peace with that final separation and move on. Grace (Altagracia) Quintero is an attractive young woman covered with tattoos, each of which, from the portrait of her namesake saint to the portrait of her deceased mother, has a meaningful connection to her life. She works at a garage and loves to fix up vintage cars. Since her grandfather died several weeks earlier, however, she has cut herself adrift from her friends, started smoking again, and feels generally restless and dissatisfied.
John watches Grace get up and go into the bathroom. It is late at night, and the sun is just coming up. He hears her in there, and then there's just silence. He calls out to her, but there is no one there. She has vanished.
And that's how it begins. There is a flashback, and the rest of the book alternates between John's third-person viewpoint and Grace's first-person narration - and it is fairly clear that the book's main focus is on Grace. And that's all I'll say about the plot of the book. Any more would ruin it.
As for how I feel about it, that is difficult to say. I skimmed through Carl's review a few days before I started reading, and I noticed that he took exception to a particular event that happened about two-thirds of the way through the novel, and the direction that the book took after that. So I was prepared, I think, in a way that he wasn't, which helped. There is foreshadowing here and there, which I might not have noticed without that heads-up, and yes, while I was not pleased either, at least it didn't blindside me. Too much. I do wish things could have ended differently, or at least that the ending were more specific and did not leave it up to me to guess and wonder about certain things. At the same time, while I didn't care for that particular direction the story took, what happened after that did feel right and believable and true to Grace, which is of course what I have come to expect and enjoy about de Lint's books.
I did enjoy this one, and I really loved the characters, who are believable and complex and utterly sympathetic. I felt as though I'd been in John and Grace's apartments, as well as at the office where John's three best friends work. The book's exploration of love and loss takes it to some dark and depressing places, and while it is very well written, I do not think I'll be rereading this one for the sense of coming home that I get from so many of de Lint's books. And that's okay. It's good for a writer to take a new direction, try something else, go for a different sort of emotional resonance. He does it very well in this one.
The Mystery of Grace by Charles de Lint (Tor, 2009)
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Fantasy Book Critic: "I thought it was a wonderfully written, charming, and at times thought-provoking novel that in no way sullies Charles’ reputation as one of the masters of contemporary fantasy."
Someone's Read It Already: "I did enjoy the story. It’s pure de Lint in so many ways: the small but strong female character; the passion over something that’s just a bit one side of mainstream; the philosophy; the idea that there is something beyond this world that is actually worthy of our faith."
Stainless Steel Droppings: "Charles de Lint is talented and he remains firmly entrenched in the upper echelon of writers I admire. This one just fell a bit short for me."