Book Review for “About Grace” by Anthony Doerr.
Summary: “David Winkler begins life in Anchorage, Alaska, a quiet boy drawn to the volatility of weather and obsessed with snow. Sometimes he sees things before they happen—a man carrying a hatbox will be hit by a bus; Winkler will fall in love with a woman in a supermarket. When David dreams that his infant daughter will drown in a flood as he tries to save her, he comes undone. He travels thousands of miles, fleeing family, home, and the future itself, to deny the dream. On a Caribbean island, destitute, alone, and unsure if his child has survived or his wife can forgive him, David is sheltered by a couple with a daughter of their own. Ultimately it is she who will pull him back into the world, to search for the people he left behind.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Fiction; Settings: Contemporary; USA – Alaska, Ohio; Caribbean Islands – St. Vincent; Canada – Yukon Territory; Other Categories: Novel, Debut, Separation (Psychology), Fathers and Daughters, Runaway husbands, Precognition.
Let’s get the bad part out of the way here… I do not believe in precognition. That is, people dreaming of things that later come true, or having foreknowledge of an event. However, I know that lots of people claim to “see” things before they happen, and they truly believe that they’re witnessing the future. This is because almost all of the people who profess to have this ability, usually do nothing to prevent something tragic from happening, so their saying that they “knew” it would happen after the fact, is just BS, if you ask me. They’re only attention seekers, and I don’t believe them when they say that they can’t change “fate.” It therefore bothered me a little that Doerr decided to give this gift to his protagonist David Winkler, who discovers this as a young boy. However, the difference here is that once Winkler realizes he’s “seeing the future,” Doerr actually allows Winkler to act on these premonitions. Also, Doerr doesn’t give Winkler many of these prescient dreams, but the few he does get, and how he reacts to them, have a real impact on his life, as well as the lives of others.
More importantly, all of that is simply a vehicle for Doerr to portray a very quiet, but troubled man, and how he lives his life. So, although there’s a very elaborate plot here, this is much more of a character-driven story than a plot-driven one, which is something I always appreciate very much. Interestingly enough, as much as Doerr writes Winkler as an enigma, he’s also pretty much of an open book. On the one hand, Winkler is almost silent, but because of the third-person omnipresent POV, Doerr opens Winkler’s soul to his readers. This also allows Doerr to populate Winkler’s story with a very diverse cast of fascinating characters, who reveal themselves quite easily to the reader, but not always to Winkler. This is especially true of the people that Winkler encounters when he exiles himself to the island of St. Vincent for what ends up being 25 years!
However, what made me totally forgive the somewhat unbelievable psychic properties of Winkler’s dreams, was how Doerr writes. Now, I already knew that Doerr could write beautiful prose from when I read his novel “All the Light we Cannot See.” But looking over my review of that novel, Doerr obviously went for something far less poetic than he did with this novel. The dreamlike quality here, combined with some of the most lyrical prose I’ve ever read, makes me think that I was almost reading books by two different writers. Some of the way Doerr describes things reminded me of Michael Ondaatje and Andrea Bobotis, I was that blown away. In short, the simple beauty of the writing here, as well as the very three-dimensional qualities of the characters Doerr achieves, is enough for me to forgive him of anything even remotely magical or unrealistic regarding Winkler’s dreams.
The funny thing is, I didn’t even know I owned this book until I found it on my shelves when we were packing up to move house! When I found it, I put it into a special box (that still hasn’t been emptied, by the way) along with “The Blue Flower,” for books I just HAD to read ASAP. I’m so happy I did that, and I’m actually glad I read this after reading his prize winning “All the Light” because I think I would have been disappointed that it didn’t measure up to the loveliness of this novel. In fact, I’m now such a fan, I’m seriously thinking of finding deals on his short stories, and preordering his upcoming novel. Obviously, there’s not more I need to say to praise this novel, so I’ll just finish this review by wholeheartedly recommending it, and giving it a full five stars!
“About Grace” by Anthony Doerr is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you.