20 May 2013

Review: SUFFICIENT GRACE, Amy Espeseth

Synopsis (from the publisher)

Ruth and her cousin Naomi live in rural Wisconsin, part of an isolated religious community. The girls’ lives are ruled by the rhythms of nature — the harsh winters, the hunting seasons, the harvesting of crops — and by their families’ beliefs. Beneath the surface of this closed, frozen world, hidden dangers lurk.

Then Ruth learns that Naomi harbours a terrible secret. She searches for solace in the mysteries of the natural world: broken fawns, migrating birds, and the strange fish deep beneath the ice. Can the girls’ prayers for deliverance be answered?

Sufficient Grace is a story of lost innocence and the unfailing bond between two young women. It is at once devastating and beautiful, and ultimately transcendent.

My Take

At first glance, SUFFICIENT GRACE is really on the outer edge of the crime fiction genre, although at least one crime does take place. Most reviews have emphasised the literary nature of the book. And so it clings to the crime fiction claim by the slenderest of threads.

I'm finding this a difficult book to review in my usual way because I really don't want to reveal too much of the plot. Told from the point of view of twelve year old Ruth, the story is set in a remote and isolated Pentecostal community in rural Wisconsin.The setting is not that old, perhaps at the end of the twentieth century. The time frame covers a small period, about 5 months over Christmas and New Year, and through the harshest season. The small community is family-based, although there are members who are not immediate family, and attempting to live a close-to-nature lifestyle while the technology they have at their disposal reveals modernity. Life is dominated by attendance at church, and a strict sense of sin.

Ruth often interprets what she sees around her in a religious fashion but then frequently sees things more clearly than the adults of the community, who made me angry with what they were prepared to ignore, and their lack of awareness of the dangers they subjected their children to.

This is a book that will provoke considerable discussion in book clubs so I encourage you to consider the Book Club notes provided by the publisher.

In a final word the author writes:
Finally I appreciate that although this is a work of fiction, people close to me - now or in the past - may read this novel as a betrayal of both the family and church in which I was raised. I have not intended to cause any hurt. I wrote what I was given to write.

My rating: 4.8

Other reviews to check

About the author

Born in rural Wisconsin, Amy Espeseth immigrated to Australia in the late 1990s and lives in Melbourne. A writer, publisher and academic, she is the recipient of the 2007 Felix Meyer Scholarship in Literature, the 2010 QUT Postgraduate Creative Writing Prize, and the 2012 CAL Scribe Fiction Prize. Sufficient Grace won the 2009 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. It was also shortlisted for the Stella Prize 2013.

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