About Grace: A Novel

( 12 )

Overview

When Anthony Doerr's The Shell Collector was published in 2002, the Los Angeles Times called his stories "as close to faultless as any writer—young or vastly experienced—could wish for." He won the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Discover Prize, Princeton's Hodder Fellowship, and two O. Henrys, and shared the Young Lions Award. Now he has written one of the most beautiful, wise, and compelling first novels of recent times.

David Winkler begins life ...

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About Grace: A Novel

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Overview

When Anthony Doerr's The Shell Collector was published in 2002, the Los Angeles Times called his stories "as close to faultless as any writer—young or vastly experienced—could wish for." He won the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Discover Prize, Princeton's Hodder Fellowship, and two O. Henrys, and shared the Young Lions Award. Now he has written one of the most beautiful, wise, and compelling first novels of recent times.

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.

Doerr's characters are full of grief and longing, but also replete with grace. His compassion for human frailty is extraordinarily moving. In luminous prose, he writes about the power and beauty of nature and about the tiny miracles that transform our lives. About Grace is heartbreaking, radiant, and astonishingly accomplished.

 

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Editorial Reviews

Margot Livesey
… as I turned the pages of About Grace, I realized how fully I had come to believe in [Winkler], how much I wanted him to reconnect with Sandy and Grace; I felt myself, like Winkler in his dreams, in the presence of an experience. As I neared the end, I read more and more slowly, increasingly reluctant to leave him and his intricately imagined world behind. Happily, now that the last page has been turned, I find I haven't: Winkler, with all his virtues and foibles, has taken up residence in my brain.
— The Washington Post
Neel Mukherjee
Doerr traverses again the territory he had marked out in the stories of his lucent first book, the short-story collection 'The Shell Collector: a rapture with nature expressed in prose that sings off the page; an infinitely subtle algebra of resonance and sympathy between minds, lives, objects, light, senses, weather; the majestic indifference of nature; the proper measure of man against natural forces. Doerr has a compulsion for observation and a passion for nature that borders on the religious.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
The majesty of nature, the meaning of courage, the redemptive power of love and the pathos of isolation--all are gracefully explored in Doerr's story of the price paid for a gift. So why does so little seem to happen in this beautiful, ponderous and sometimes monotonous first novel by the author of the exquisite collection The Shell Collector? David Winkler has seen glimpses of the future ever since he was a boy. As a 32-year-old hydrologist in Anchorage, Alaska, he dreams of his future wife; soon they meet, fall in love and run away to Ohio, where she gives birth to their daughter, Grace. But when he dreams that he fails to save Grace from a flood, Winkler abandons wife and child, hoping to flee the future. He becomes a hermetic handyman on a Caribbean island near St. Vincent, befriended by a local family. The years pass until, emboldened by his surrogate family's grown daughter, a gifted marine biologist, Winkler realizes that he must embark on a journey to discover if Grace is alive. This is a lyrical tale tuned a bit too fine: Doerr's dreamy prose accords more attention to nature than character, so that Winkler, transfixed by the wonders of water and snowflakes but singularly unreflective about his actual life, is a frustratingly opaque protagonist. There are gorgeous moments here, but a stifling lack of story. Agent, Wendy Weil. 9-city author tour. (Oct.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
As in his stunning short story collection The Shell Collector, Doerr explores human connections and the natural world in his first novel. Nature's power is a major character in its own right, fascinating a lonely young Alaskan named David Winkler. Obsessed with the mysteries of weather, David pursues a career in meteorology and is seemingly the ultimate scientific nerd-except for dreams since childhood that have regularly and accurately portrayed events before they happen, including the sudden death of a stranger and David's first meeting with the love of his life. When a recurring nightmare depicts the drowning of his baby daughter, Grace, the terrified father exiles himself for a quarter-century in a frantic attempt to change the future. His tragicomic odyssey in the Caribbean and across the United States before his return to Alaska plays out in ways that would defy the most gifted medium to predict. With clear, precise writing, Doerr creates cinematic images of gorgeous landscapes and of the highly individualistic characters who populate David's circle of acquaintances in this unusual tale. Recommended for most fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/04.]-Starr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A compelling protagonist and a lyrical style grounded in precise observation of the physical world: these are the hallmarks of Idaho author Doerr's complex, ambitious first novel. As in the stories of his highly praised debut (The Shell Collector, 2002), Doerr explores the tensions between scientific objectivity and emotional vulnerability-here in the story of David Winkler, a trained hydrologist whose understanding of predictability in natural process is unsettled by mysteries that unfold from his own nature. For David experiences prophetic dreams of mischance occurring in both humdrum and catastrophic forms. We first meet him on an airplane when, at age 59, he's returning to the US from 25 years of self-exile and servitude in the Caribbean Grenadine Islands. Working through extended flashbacks that comprise most of the text here, Doerr patiently fills in the blanks. Growing up a scholarly, solitary youth in Anchorage, Alaska, David "dreamed" his chance meeting with the woman he would wed-then, finding her unhappily married, persuaded her to accompany him to a new life in Ohio. Fathering a daughter (Grace), then dreaming the flood in which he himself accidentally drowns her, David fled his marriage and future, booked passage on a Caribbean-bound steamer, then spent an embattled quarter-century laboring to return to obligations he had shed, meanwhile acquiring a new "family" and a second chance at happiness. About Grace possesses a seductive symbolic intensity, and abounds with gorgeous descriptions and metaphors ("The sea teething" on a coral reef; "the million distant candles of the stars"). But it's much too long, and is significantly marred by its climactic momentum toward areconciliation that simply isn't very credible. Its protagonist's loneliness, regret, and guilt are painfully palpable, and go a long way toward making this risky book work-but, in the end, aren't enough. A bold attempt, nevertheless, by a gifted writer whose own future looms promisingly indeed. Author tour. Agent: Wendy Weil/Wendy Weil Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143036166
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/27/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 96,378
  • Product dimensions: 5.34 (w) x 7.92 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Anthony Doerr

Anthony Doerr is a fiction writer whose stories have appeared in numerous publications, including the O. Henry Prize Stories, Atlantic Monthly, Zoetrope: All Story, and The Paris Review. His first book, The Shell Collector, was published in 2002 and recently was awarded the Barnes & Noble Discover Prize and the New York Public Library's Young Lions Award.

He lives in Boise, Idaho where he teaches M.F.A. students at Boise State University.

Good To Know

In our interview with Doerr, he revealed some fun facts about himself:

"I hate peanut butter. I loathe it. My mom used to make it from scratch, and I remember watching her pour all that oil into her Cuisinart. And the sound of it, chunking around in there as it got whipped into paste. Ugh!"

"I am a horrific driver in the snow. I get very anxious. I love snow but I feel like humans aren't meant to move 60 mph through it."

"We have a dog named Lucy! She has such a pure heart. She is the best dog that has ever lived."

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    1. Also Known As:
      Tony Doerr
    2. Hometown:
      Boise, Idaho
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 27, 1973
    2. Place of Birth:
      Cleveland, Ohio
    1. Education:
      B.A., Bowdoin College, 1995; M.F.A., Bowling Green State University, 1999

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

He made his way through the concourse and stopped by a window to watch a man with two orange wands wave a jet into its gate. Above the tarmac the sky was faultless, that relentless tropic blue he had never quite gotten used to. At the horizon, clouds had piled up: cumulus congestus, a sign of some disturbance traveling along out there, over the sea.

The slim frame of a metal detector awaited its line of tourists. In the lounge: duty-free rum, birds of paradise sleeved in cellophane, necklaces made from shells. From his shirt pocket he produced a notepad and a pen.

The human brain, he wrote, is seventy-five percent water. Our cells are little more than sacs in which to carry water. When we die it spills from us into the ground and air and into the stomachs of animals and is contained again in something else. The properties of liquid water are this: it holds its 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.

He passed through the gate. On the boarding stairs, almost to the jet, a feeling like choking rose in his throat. He clenched his duffel and clung to the rail. A line of birds — ground doves, perhaps — were landing one by one in a patch of mown grass on the far side of the runway. The passengers behind him shifted restlessly. A flight attendant wrung her hands, reached for him, and escorted him into the cabin.

The sensation of the plane accelerating and rising was like entering a vivid and perilous dream. He braced his forehead against the window. The ocean widened below the wing; the horizon tilted, then plunged. The plane banked and the island reemerged, lush and sudden, fringed by reef. For an instant, in the crater of Soufrière, he could see a pearly green sheet of water. Then the clouds closed, and the island was gone.

The woman in the seat next to him had produced a novel and was beginning to read. The airplane climbed the troposphere. Tiny fronds of frost were growing on the inner pane of the window. Behind them the sky was dazzling and cold. He blinked and wiped his glasses with his sleeve. They were climbing into the sun.

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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions from the Publisher
1. The novel is rich with description and symbolism. The symbolism of water is present throughout the story ranging from floods, snowflakes, lakes and oceans to the nature of Winkler's profession. Discuss this symbol in the novel as a whole.

2. Discuss the nature of Sandy and Winkler's relationship. Sandy's point of view is not known to the reader. What do you think motivates her? Why do you think she avoids discussing Winkler's premonitions and sleepwalking?

3. Discuss Winkler's character. What do you think of the choices he made? What were the most important events of his childhood? How did the relationship with his parents along with his earliest premonition shape his character? What is your overall opinion of Winkler?

4. How do the lives of Felix and Soma compare to Winkler's? Why do you think Winkler becomes so attached to the family and, in particular, Naaliyah? What do you think prompts Winkler to return to Ohio after almost two decades on St. Vincent's? Why do you think he stayed so long?

5. While Winkler visits the first Grace Winkler, her son Jed "predicts" certain things about Winkler's journey. Where does Winkler's journey lead him? Was Jed's prediction accurate?

6. Winkler describes his journey at one point as "Another kind of purgatory: a waiting to wake up." What does this mean? How is the notion of purgatory explored throughout Winkler's story?

7. Discuss Naaliyah's character. What is the nature of her relationship with Winkler? What aspects of her personality are revealed during her time at "Camp Nowhere"?

8. What is the significance of the winter spent at "Camp Nowhere"? How does Winkler change during this time? What is the importance of the snowflakes he works to collect?

9. Herman Sheeler figures prominently later in the story. Describe his personality. Why do you think he makes the decision to befriend and help Winkler?

10. Describe the relationship between Grace and Winkler. How does she ultimately come to accept Winkler in her life?

11. The story takes place in a variety of richly described locations. What are some of the most memorable? What aspects of these locations help or hinder Winkler through his turmoil? How do you think these various environments help to tell the story?

12. Do you think Winkler's story reached a resolution? In the final chapter of the book, Winkler dreams. Explain the symbolism of this final dream.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 12 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2005

    I am a new Doerr Fan!

    This book was great! The main character was tragic, awkward and ever stalkerish but I found my heart breaking for him. The style of writting was so beautifully constructed I feel as though I just watched a movie instead of reading a book.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2005

    Read this book!!!!

    This is one of the ten best books I have ever read. From the first page, it was clear that this was written by an author who carefully crafts every sentence. His prose is pure poetry. This beautiful story about love, faith and ultimately the resilience of the human spirit was gut-wrenching at times as you acutely feel David Winklers pain and redemption. If you only read one book this year, you should make it this one!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2004

    A shining jewel of a novel...

    This book sings about the beauty of love in it's many different forms, redemption and friendship. I stayed up all night and into the early morning finishing this book. It is one of the best books I have ever read, and I plan to listen to it on audio; I know it will be just as good. Mr. Doerr has created a magical world of fate and chance out of the most unlikely circumstances and creates a very belivable, intricate story. I didn't want David Winkler's story to ever end...I have had The Shell Collector for 2 years and haven't read it, but it will be one of the next books that I am planning to open up.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2004

    Wow!!

    David Winkler is an odd loner living in Anchorage, Alaska, who has dreams that foretell the future. He's weird. And his life ends up a mess. And I immediately began to like him. In the chaos of his strange existence, Winkler seeks out and finds (or trips over and falls into) beautiful things. Family, friends, the splendor of nature. It's a painful journey that takes the reader from Alaska to the Midwest to the tropics of an island and back around again. This is one of the most beautiful books I've read in a long time. It's one of those rare books that wakes you up to the good things around you. Doerr's prose is brilliant, and yet it's all so subtle and unpretentious. The book is pensive and profound, it's plot is smooth and compelling, and it's characters are kind and immensely likeable.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2005

    Smart and Refreshing

    This was the first book I read by Anthony Doerr. I enjoyed every second of it - it is smart, and strange. The characters are unusual and touching. This books deals with questions of fate, free will, determination, and faith. I strongly recommend it to anyone!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 25, 2005

    A long time to get there

    Mr Doerr writes well. Part of this book resembled Dean Koontz, part Harlan Coben and part Greg Garrett (Free Bird). The prose was excellent, I just had problems assimilating the different plot twists and, in the end, believing in the characters. Starting off with the dream/reality topic, then gravitating into defying fate, I then got lost in the passage of time it took for the main character to decide to do something to right the wrongs, redeem himself, and to set the record straight. Perhaps it was his attempts which, for an educated person which Mr Winkler was supposed to be, seemed so assinine and ridiculous. Yes, some were humorous, some tragic, but why attempt them the way he did? I could never come to grips with that issue. In the end my rush to the finish was in part to find out what happens to the hero but was also to just finish the book. I would recommend this book for style, but it isn't on my top list. The plot just didn't settle well with me.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2004

    Doerr is a Master

    I read About Grace simply because I loved the imagery in Doerr's short story The Shell Collector. About Grace surpasses the fried and hashed world of genre, and presents a literary, almost poetic, tale of love, fear, and redemption. This is a one of a kind work, and I look forward to many years of equally great books from young Anthony Doerr.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 7, 2014

    Anthony Doerr has become one of my favorite authors. His prose

    Anthony Doerr has become one of my favorite authors. His prose is poetic to me.. his words evoke beautiful physical pictures and pictures for the soul. Some of his sentences are so profound to me that I find myself dwelling on them for long after the page turns. Now I'm an avid reader but not all books leave a mark on me the way "The Light We Cannot See" and "About Grace" did. I love that the books are kind of rambling (and very long!) because they exemplify the twists and turns our lives take. The character development in this book is terrific as we follow David and the secondary characters throughout their circumstances, emotions and real lives. If you are a true bibliophile and enjoy true beauty in prose, you'll like this book and Anthony Doerr.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2007

    LIKED THE CAPTIONS AND GRAPHICS

    But oi voi - just such a crock of americana shiite i`ve not seen recently - surely that was an exercise set by tutor ,gone awry???

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2005

    Ooops, I didn't like it at all.....

    Whew....I thought I'd never finish, and really it was a little 'too dark' for me. I guess it just wasn't my style. Dark.......

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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