About Grace By Anthony Doerr
This is the 2004 debut novel by Anthony Doerr, the award winning author of All the light we cannot see (2014)
The underlying metaphor of the story is outlined on the first page:
The properties of liquid water are this: it holds it’s temperature longer than air; it is adhering and elastic; it is perpetually in motion. These are the tenets of hydrology; these are the things one should know if one is to know oneself.
With layers of entrancing observations on the nature and cycles of water, we follow the life of David Winkler, a hydrologist particularly obsessed with snowflakes, who has premonitory dreams. Some concern inconsequential mundane events, some reveal impending disaster. It is a recurring dream about the death of his baby daughter, Grace, that triggers Winkler’s desperate attempt to change fate and in doing so, diverts the course of lives. What follows is a lifetime of trying to redeem himself from an act that broke his family apart and discover if he did indeed save his daughter from death.
Cause and effect, the beauty and devastation of nature and of love, self-sacrifice, and a yearning to understand the hidden mysteries of our existence — how invisible forces influence behaviour, whether we shape our own paths or they are predetermined — seem to be just some of the more philosophical questions driving the story.
Doerr’s fervently poetic descriptive style may not be for everyone, but I took delight in it! (New to my bucket-list is to experience the sound of a deep river slowly freezing over in the Alaskan wilderness)
Winkler’s occasionally overdramatic and somewhat unlikely endeavours aside, the well structured narrative contained enough adventure and human drama to keep me engaged and propel me through the pages. The cast of characters illustrate various degrees of human resilience, curiosity and weakness, though are admittedly less formed and somewhat more distant than the palpable, well researched prose on natural phenomena. (With the exception of Naaliyah, a ‘surrogate’ daughter whose fascination with insect behaviour matches Winkler’s interest in water)
A beautifully written novel, I appreciated the sombre, reflective mood of About Grace, which for the most part was not received anywhere near as well by critics as All the light we cannot see. I am yet to read the latter, but will be adding my name to the hold queue!