A review of Grace by Vanessa Smith
Published on July 1, 2011
The title character in Vanessa Smith’s first novella, Grace, has plenty of problems, but excessive drinking isn’t one of them. “Something is wanting. Something I can’t find within myself,” laments Grace, a restless art history graduate. The novella follows Grace in the few weeks that succeed her convocation and surround a life-altering experience. Written in the first person, Grace reads like a long diary entry. This gives the book an authentic feel, and provides the reader with the inside scoop (on insecurities, on sex – the usual topics that make a diary a juicy read).
Grace is at odds with her family, uncomfortable in her own skin, and undecided about her future. She is also lonely. Smitten by a stranger, she must soon confront an unforeseen, irreversible, and dire consequence of their liaison. Smith puts Grace in a very difficult (difficult to read, difficult to write) situation, but has the skill to make it work. The build-up, Grace’s denial, and the situation itself are believable and moving. Smith builds suspense and the reader is just as surprised by the outcome as Grace is: “I move to stand, but find my legs don’t work. An icy river of blood migrates from my face to my toes, and I taste the taste that grey makes on your tongue. The cold linoleum kiss of [the] tiled floor.” If anything, Smith is too eager for Grace to learn something from her experience. Even when Grace is just beginning to acknowledge the situation she says, “At first, I ignored it. Silenced the voice of intuition that accompanied it. A new voice – a voice even older than my own.” Does wisdom really follow so closely on the heels of experience? It does according to Smith, and the rest of the book expounds Grace’s transformation.
In part, the novella is compelling because of the point in Grace’s life at which Smith chooses to portray her. On paper, Grace doesn’t have much: no career, few friends, no lover, and no plan. What she does have is more elusive: potential, youth, and her character. Smith portrays Grace as a complex person, at times utterly bratty, at other times sympathetic, dealing not only with the harsh transition period from student existence to adulthood, but also with an additional life-altering encounter. And as Grace’s mother tells her, “ … you can get through it … that’s what makes it so frightening – so painful.” mRb
Vanessa Bonneau lives in Montreal, where it took super-ish hero efforts to make it to spring. But now, tulips!