Grace

( 2 )

Overview

In the east Texas town of Cold Springs in 1944, the community waits for the war to end. In this place where certain boundaries are not crossed and in a time when people reveal little about themselves, their problems, and their passions, Jane Roberts Wood exposes the heart of each of four families during the last year of World War II. Bound together by neighborhood and Southern customs, yet separated by class, money, and family, they are an unforgettable lot, vibrantly brought to life in this “delightfully ...

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Grace: A Novel

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Overview

In the east Texas town of Cold Springs in 1944, the community waits for the war to end. In this place where certain boundaries are not crossed and in a time when people reveal little about themselves, their problems, and their passions, Jane Roberts Wood exposes the heart of each of four families during the last year of World War II. Bound together by neighborhood and Southern customs, yet separated by class, money, and family, they are an unforgettable lot, vibrantly brought to life in this “delightfully perceptive and unabashedly romantic” novel (Sanford Herald). As the war grinds to an end, it becomes the catalyst that drives the inhabitants of Cold Springs across the boundaries that had once divided them, taking them to places both chaotic and astonishing.

 

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
As the residents of a neighborhood in Cold Springs, Texas, wait out the waning months of World War II, Grace Gillian must cope not only with material difficulty (her husband has deserted her), but with the intrusion of her nosy neighbors and with her own troubled past.
From the Publisher
 “A rare novel: intelligent, lyrical, devoid of coyness and manipulative plot turns—a book for old and young.”—Austin American-Statesman

 “A genuine Texas treasure.”—Dallas Morning News

Houston Chronicle
Jane Roberts Wood's Grace is as gentle and lovely as the name suggests.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
An absolute charmer... You can almost hear the screen doors slam and the ice clink in the glasses of tea.
Publishers Weekly
Wood has a rare gift for transcending the ordinary.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Straightforward, often lyrical prose and a sympathetic yet clear-eyed historical perspective characterize Wood's first novel following the successful trilogy that began with The Train to Estelline. This time, she focuses on four families living on the 900 block of Pine Street in the East Texas town of Cold Springs in 1944. As World War II rages in Europe, Grace Gillian, a 38-year-old high school English teacher with a "wild Irish streak," is at the center of things on the home front. Grace's husband, Bucy, has recently abandoned her, unleashing a torrent of local gossip, and much of the novel turns on the question of which future Grace will choose will it be with the bereaved husband of a recently deceased neighbor, a handsome sergeant she meets on a train or her own estranged husband? Equally affecting are the stories of Bobby Moore, an earnest teenager with poor eyesight who desperately wants to participate in the war effort, and Bobby's seemingly mismatched parents, his oh-so-Southern father, Robert, and his outsider Yankee mother, Barbara. Passion pops up in unusual places, even as the war years offer the opportunity for everyone to finally grow up. As the war drags to an end, the distant horrors of battle are having a profound effect on the town, and insanity is in the air, changing lives irrevocably. Like a good parent, Wood stands back and lets the sturdy characters of her smalltown novel discover just what's important. Despite the sadness of loss and the bitterness of hard-won knowledge, the novel's conclusion is jubilantly triumphant, as satisfying as a snapshot of V-E Day. (Apr. 3) Forecast: Wood's move to Dutton from the smaller U. of North Texas Press, which published her Estelline trilogy, should bring added attention and sales to this increasingly popular author. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Unabashedly romantic fiction from the author of Dance a Little Longer (1993), this time about a small-town enchantress and her swains, circa 1944. The few men and boys in Cold Springs, Texas, who haven't been drafted are madly in love with Grace Gillian, but they all prefer to admire her sensual, careless beauty from a safe distance. Even John Appleby, a handsome widower with whom she shared a night of blissful passion, now keeps her at arm's length. Grace can't understand it any more than she can understand why her husband, Bucy, abandoned her without a word of explanation. Everyone seems to think she's just too different somehow. Why, she painted her house an outrageous shade of turquoise, and she's forever quoting poetry to the dazzled teenagers in her English class—that's enough to arouse suspicion right there. Young Bobby Moore has a conspicuous crush on her, and so does his respectable father, not that Robert Moore IV would ever admit it to his wife, a free spirit in her own right and a Yankee to boot. Crisscrossing subplots emerge here, involving Bobby's unrequited love for the girl next door and his father's callous disregard for the family's much-loved black maid, who can't afford the surgery she needs. Grace is too preoccupied by her feelings for John to notice much of this; she's annoyed by his standoffishness and his sudden decision to join the Army. On impulse, she takes the train to New York to find her errant husband and meets a dashing military man en route. Smitten Sgt. Dan Manning vows to return for Grace by war's end. Shortly thereafter, Bucy agrees to a divorce. But here's the quandary: John Appleby corresponds faithfully, but his dispassionate, careful toneirks Grace. Looks like Dan's her man, but will he survive to make her his? A bit much, truth be told, what with all those swelling emotions, soldierly love letters, and lyrical quotes from WWII's greatest hits.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781574412789
  • Publisher: University of North Texas Press
  • Publication date: 10/15/2009
  • Series: Evelyn Oppenheimer Series
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

JANE ROBERTS WOOD is the award-winning author of The Train to Estelline, A Place Called Sweet Shrub, and Dance a Little Longer, all published in paperback by the University of North Texas Press. A recipient of the Texas Institute of Letters Award, and fellowships from the National Endowment of the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, she is also a member of the Texas Institute of Letters. She lives in Argyle, Texas.

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Read an Excerpt


Chapter One


Spring 1944


· 1 ·


Grace Gillian kneels before her hyacinth bed, her bare fingers raking the accumulation of decaying leaves from around the plants. She has long since shucked off her gardening gloves. She loves the feel of the earth's awakening, the humid, fertile smell of it.

    Grace is thirty-eight years old. Slender. High cheekbones. Generous mouth. Dark brown hair, almost auburn with the russet highlights around her face. But it is her eyes, soft gray eyes tilting up at the corners, that one remembers. When she reads a poem she loves or when a student makes a perceptive comment, her face lights up and her eyes become radiantly blue. But she does not know she is beautiful. And, although her name is Grace, neither does she think of herself in metaphysical terms, such as, state of. When she thinks of herself at all, it is in sensible, nearly mundane terms—teacher, gardener, friend. But she is neither sensible nor mundane. And on this day, as she rakes the sodden leaves from the hyacinth bed, she is thinking of John, whom she loves beyond the telling. My true, pure love. A love not fueled by desire. This is what she believes. She feels she has long since turned away from desire.

    The pecan trees, arching high over her and over her turquoise-colored house, have not yet leafed out. Nor has the elm by the front door. But the magnificent live oak is in full leaf. And a single wild plum and a domestic peach in the northwest corner of her garden are dizzily in bloom, infusing the blue air andthe yellow grass with the colors and scents of spring.

    A song from the kitchen radio drifts out into her garden. "I'll be seeing you in all the old familiar places," Jo Stafford sings tenderly. Since the War, all the songs are heartrending to Grace. Looking closely at the hyacinth buds, she can faintly discern the color—purple or white—each will become. Colors of mourning.

    She, Grace, although not in mourning, is deeply sad. Anna, her next-door neighbor, is sick. Sick to death. When she thinks it again, sick to death, the phrase takes on its literal meaning. Anna is sick, and in a day or two she will go to her death. And then John will leave. He has told her this. "If something happens to Anna"—if not when said carefully—"I'm going to get into this War." Raising an eyebrow, he smiled. "I'll probably end up with a desk job. But if they'll have me, I'm going." Remembering, her eyes fill, and she sits back on her heels and with the sleeve of her sweater wipes the perspiration and tears from her face.

    It's true that the tide has turned. Yesterday the Allies bombed industrial targets in a town called Brunswick, deep inside France. The Allies are winning. Everybody knows the War will soon be over. Farmers meeting on muddy, country roads trade shots of whiskey and hope through windows of pickup trucks: "This time next year, my boy will be home, helping me get the fields ready for cotton." Then, unable to voice the unthinkable, they add, "if the creek don't rise," or "if nothing don't happen." Women, boldly tempting the gods, lean from under hair dryers at Chic-les-Dolls Beauty Salon: "I didn't have the heart to put up a tree last Christmas. But this year we've already picked out the biggest one on the place!" So! It was agreed. Probably by September. Certainly no later than Christmas. All the sons and lovers and husbands—just boys, so young—will be coming home.

    Young, until lately. Now they are calling up men as old as forty-five for active duty. And all over town, men even older are trying to get into the War. Some are fathers, desperately trying to follow their young sons—living, dead or missing-in-action sons—into battle. Everybody longs to play some part, however small, in the great and terrible—made unbelievably romantic by Hollywood—War.

    Now a small gray spider, its filament of newly spun web invisible, appears before Grace's eyes. She moves her finger through the air above it, finds silken thread and deposits the wiggling spider on a hyacinth. By Christmas. Maybe by Thanksgiving, she tells herself, getting up, stretching.

    In her kitchen, she fills the soup kettle with water, drops in cubes of beef (two red points, but never mind, she can get more from her washwoman), adds fresh vegetables, a can of tomatoes, garlic, a dollop of vinegar. She rolls oregano in her fingers, sniffs it, drops it in. Adds thyme. Rosemary. A witches' brew. Then she takes a bottle of red wine from the cupboard.

    She has bathed and, dressing, got as far as her slip and stockings when Amelia calls. "Heard anything? From the hospital?"

    "No."

    "Call me."

    "I'm fine."

    And in the space between Amelia's question and her reassurance, she sees the evening, imagines it stretching before her—she, sitting with John while he eats, talking quietly about her garden and the good news from the European front, and John, comforted by the news and the soup, gradually relaxing, able to get through another night, another day.

    After the briefest pause, "Good-bye," Amelia says.

    Within the strong bonds of friendship between these two East Texas women there are carefully drawn boundaries that must not be breached. When Bucy left, Amelia had asked, "What would have happened if John had come to your door first? A blind date? Do you suppose—?"

    Plucking a grocery list from the kitchen table and Amelia's questions from the air, "Let's go to the grocery store. Get our shopping done early," Grace had said quickly, strengthening a barrier, redrawing a line. But in the small neighborhood grocery (bread on one side of the aisle and canned goods on the other), Grace had imagined an eighteen-year-old gift, herself, in a white dress, running to answer the doorbell, opening the door to John—tall, blue-eyed, dark. And John, laughing, teasing, "I'm selling magazines, ma'am. Can I interest you in a McCall's? Redbook? In me?" And she, recognizing (a preternatural recognition) that here—in his arms, this!—is home, would have stepped through the doorway into John's arms. And in that single golden moment, she would have fallen in love with John, rather than slowly, sensibly (she tells herself this), through the long years.

    "Grace, four cans of asparagus! I didn't think you liked canned asparagus," Amelia had exclaimed, calling her back. And she, astonished by her asparagus-filled basket, had laughed, "What could I be thinking of!"

    John, that's what! Amelia had told herself. And since Grace's husband had gotten on a train and gone to New York with never a word to Grace or anybody else, Amelia kept her thoughts—always impossible, completely inappropriate—about her best friend's marriage to herself.

    However, Amelia feels free to give certain kinds of advice: "Grace, you ought to get out more." She says this frequently.

    But where in an East Texas town does an abandoned wife go? Grace wonders. Although she is not expected to climb upon a funeral pyre, she is psychologically shielded by the mystery of abandonment, the awfulness of it. For why would a man do that? Cold Springs asks. Just up and leave his wife! And one so pretty!

    But Grace keeps her counsel about the whys of her husband's leaving, and John is there, next door. She is consoled by John's presence in the house next door, comforted by long summer evenings overhung by pewter-colored skies and John's telling of this or that trial and laughing at his own foibles, solaced by autumn's ripeness followed by the smell of pines drummed into the cold, crisp air by winter rains and the three of them before a bright fire in the Appleby dining room and, now, a new spring with the hyacinths and daffodils, the plum and peach trees once more in flower.

    Listening to the evening news, Grace hears that guerrillas have killed four hundred Nazis near Mount Olympus in Greece and that the Germans in retaliation have shot 317 citizens at Messina. And our boys are still on the beach at Anzio, desperately fighting to gain a foothold. Oh, God, this horrible war. Let it be over soon, she prays.

    When the soup is done, she goes outside to watch for John. She sits under the oak tree in the swing that John, under Anna's close direction, had hung for her. Clouds have rolled in, big cumulus clouds, the lowest one darkening, and it is this cloud, growing ever darker as it sweeps across the sky, that brings the wind. Thunder rumbles distantly. Over her head the huge branches of the oak lift and sway, propelling her back to her childhood. As a little girl, on just such a day, she would climb up into a tree as high as she dared, reveling in the wind that tossed the branches about.

    She stands and, hands on her hips, gauges the height and the distance between the swaying branches. Could she climb this tree? Now? Maybe. Kicking off her shoes, she puts a foot on the swing, holds the chain by which it hangs, and then, grasping the highest limb she can reach, she sets her foot upon a strong, thick limb and pulls herself up. Turning to sit snugly against the trunk, she is immediately caught up in the revelous frenzy of the leaves.

    Watching the branches tossing in wild abandon all around her, she thinks: If he were to see me now, what might he say? "Move over. I'm coming up there with you." Or holding up his arms: "Jump! Come on! I'll catch you."

    She stays in the tree until she hears the phone, runs to answer it. John is calling from the hospital, his words so closed off, so choked by grief, she barely recognizes him. "The doctor says Anna will die tonight." His voice, sandpaper tearing, coming harshly from his throat: "Grace, could you—?"

    "I'll come, John. I'll come right down," she says, but when she gets to the hospital, John has gone.

    She sits outside Anna's door, knowing her friend is on her last journey. She listens to the staccato sounds of the crisply ticking clock, watches the sun dapple the brown linoleum floor. "Glory be to God for dappled things." She thinks of apples at the A&P and oranges. Lemons. Traps! Her mind veers away from Anna, trapped by death, on the other side of the shiny gray door.

    Sometime later—who knows how long?—the nurse appears. Her look sweeps the waiting room. "Where is Mr. Appleby?"

    "I don't know."

    "Mr. Appleby's been drinking."

    "Mr. Appleby's been suffering."

    There is no compassion in the nurse's voice. "Mrs. Appleby is dead."

    "I'll tell him."

    Both houses are dark when she turns into her drive. She calls Amelia.

    "Poor thing," Amelia says. "Two years is too long for anyone to suffer. How's John?"

    "He's anesthetizing himself right now, or was. I'll take over some soup when he comes home."

    When John has not returned by nine o'clock, she takes a tray—the soup, hot cornbread, fruit cocktail—to the gallery table. She eats slowly, listening for the sound of John's car in the drive.

    When he has not come by eleven (Is he at the hospital? At the funeral home?), Grace puts on her gown and goes through the house turning out lights. Downstairs, a plaintive meow at the back door reminds her she has not fed Cal. She unhooks the back screen door, and although it is dark, some movement of shadows signals John's presence.

    "John?"

    "Here, Grace, I'm out here in the swing."

    She slips on her robe and pads barefoot out to the backyard.

    "Anna died," he says dully.

    "I know."

    "Sit down, Grace. Keep me company."

    She sits by him. From time to time he starts the swing, and they move back and forth, or he reaches over and picks up a glass and drinks before carefully setting it down again.

    "Anna," he says hoarsely. "She was never happy. I never made her happy."

    "I don't know if you can make someone ..."

    "Don't, Grace. Don't analyze this with fancy logic. It won't help."

    He leans down, picks up his glass and holds it in both hands. "Sorry. But ... need to say this. Need to face it. My wife was never happy. She lived all those years and was never happy. When I married her, this little slip of a girl, eyes sad as a dove's call, `You'll be happy with me,' I told her. But, oh, Jesus!"

    John is past tipsy. He is drunk. Tomorrow, will he remember what he is saying to her now? Will he be sorry? Will she?

    "John."

    "Hush. Hush, Miss Gillian. Oh, Miss Gillian. Hey, you know that poem? That crazy love song. You read it to me one day. Mr. T. S. Eliot wrote it, and God, I loved that poem! `I have heard the mermaids singing ... I do not think that they will sing to me.' Remember those lines? Well, Anna had. She had heard them. She knew they were out there, sunning on rocks far out in the sea. Listening to the songs of whales. And singing their mermaid songs. But they never sang to her. They only made her sad."

    John. Always steady. Sound. And yet, this lovely poetic side, sending an unexpected note of pleasure down her spine.

    He sips from his glass. She looks up at the sky. Not a star in it, not even the moon.

    "Anna knew she was missing the fullness of life. Grace, old friend, do you know how sad that makes me? She went round, worried, trying so hard all the time to be happy."

    "There were times when she seemed—"

    "Seemed. Seemed!" His voice is scornful. He turns in the swing, grasps her shoulders. "Grace, you're happy. What makes you happy? Your silly garden? Your silly cat? Your silly turquoise house? Your silly ..."

    "Husband?"

    "Sorry, Grace. Sorry. No right. Have no right."

    "What you just said. That's what's silly! My cat's not silly. Nor my garden. Nor my husband."

    "Bucy. Well, I never understood how you and he ... Sorry. No business. But got to say one more thing. About Anna. I never made her happy. And, son of a bitch that I am, after a while, I stopped trying."

    Feeling soft fur twining around her leg, she picks up her yellow cat. "John, it's misting. Let's go in. I'll feed you and Cal."

    "No, no soup. Soup's for tomorrow. Come on," taking her hand, stumbling over a small wisteria bush, "I'll walk you home." He looks up at the sky. "Where are the blasted stars? Every blasted one of them has disappeared." Carefully holding his drink up, as if toasting the missing stars, he turns in a clumsy circle.

    She takes his arm. "I think I'd better walk you home."

    "No. No, Miss Gillian. Escort you to your kitchen steps."

    At the foot of the steps he stumbles again, and she turns and brushes his face. Then he is in her arms and she in his, and nothing, not Anna's death, or old voices, not God himself can still the passion that sweeps them from the steps to her bed. He, made so by Anna's long illness, is as starved as she. Their lovemaking is fierce, passionate. Deeply satisfying. Afterwards, lying in his arms, tears run down her face.

    "John." She sighs, a deep contented sigh. Words gather: I love you. I have always loved you.

    But, "God," he says and is asleep.

    Lying there, by his side, she wonders if some part of her has always known this would happen, that one day he would be her lover. Tomorrow she will tell him she loves him. She shifts her body so that it follows the contours of his and sleeps.

    She wakes, is instantly awake, before daylight, and before she opens her eyes, smooths the empty pillow, she knows that he has gone.

    When the sun rises, the house next door begins to stir. Cars come and go, doors open and close, muted voices sift into the bedroom. She does not see John. In the full light of day, in the full realization of his loss, she does not want to see him. It is too soon.


· 2 ·


ON Monday Amelia calls. "The funeral's at eleven. I'll pick you up at ten-thirty."

    Grace makes coffee and takes it to her bedroom. Looking into the mirror, she feels vaguely surprised that she looks just the same. Dazed, drenched by the memory of lovemaking, she bathes leisurely, bends to shake her breasts into a bra, slips on a navy blue dress, coils her hair in a bun at the nape of her neck, puts back the veil of her small hat and puts it on, gathers up gloves and purse. In the kitchen, she feeds Cal, pours more coffee and slips bread into the toaster.

    Frowning, she is unable to believe that Anna will never again be at the table, in front of the fireplace, in Grace's swing.

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Reading Group Guide


Question: The word "grace" is both nebulous and powerful. What does it mean to you? Does the character Grace embody any of your definitions of the word, and if so, in what ways?


Question: Could an argument be made that the town of Cold Springs is itself is a character in the novel, Grace?


Question: To which characters in the novel does the word "abandon" relate? For those characters, is the term used negatively or positively?


Question: Does Grace Gillian live her life by the motto painted on her kitchen ceiling ("Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.")? If so, does this saying serve her well? If not, would it have helped or hurt Grace to have done so? Does the motto hold a clue to the real reason for Bucy's departure?


Question: What does Bobby learn from what he sees in the Sandflat's yard? Are Mr. Sandflat's efforts to give the moon to his daughter comic, tragic, or some combination of both?


Question: In his review of Grace in the Sante Fe New Mexican, James Idema suggests that the "Home Front" is "largely neglected now amid the noisy homage to 'the greatest generation.'" In the realm of the novel, how important are the actions of the people of Cold Springs to the war effort?


Question: Does Barbara Moore make the right choice when she leaves her family?


Question: For all the purported closeness of a small town, it could be argued that a certain three residents of Cold Springs are treated as suspect. In what ways are Barbara Moore, Grace Gillian, and Maryanne Baldridge similar? In what ways are they different?


Question: Though some members of the Moore family would strenuously disagree with the notion, are there points of similarity between the Moores and the Baldridges?


Question: Two of the major characters in Grace, Grace Gillian and Bobby Moore, both have clear ideas of what should happen for themselves next as the novel begins (of lasting love with John Appleby and of joining the Navy, respectively) that have passed by the wayside as the novel ends. Are Grace and/or Bobby better off without their original notions? Why or why not?


Question: Do you think Grace will be happy in New Mexico?


Question: What parallels can be drawn between the resolution of the novel and the poem "The Lady of Shalott" that Grace reads to her class?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 19, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Kept Me Turning Pages!

    I'd never heard of this author before, but both the title and book cover appealed to me as well as reading that the setting was in Texas during the WW2 era, a time and place I've always been interested in. Since I came across this at a library book sale and it was inexpensive, I decided to give it a try. It was a different type story than I usually read but perhaps just the right time for something different and refreshing. I was quickly drawn into the story and charmed by its main character, Grace. The story kept me entranced and after finishing the book, I quickly searched out and read more of this author's books. Her writing style is fluid and colorful and her stories alive and real. A very good read!

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    fabulous period piece

    In 1944 in Cold Springs, Texas, thirty-eight years old English teacher Grace Gillian does not understand the male of the species, at least those who are not on the front. They seem to admire her yet they avoid her as if she has a contagious disease. Her spouse simply left her without a word of explanation. Her widower neighbor shared a glorious evening together, but never followed up with even a visit. Teenager Bobby Moore, who wants to join the army, and his father both have desired Grace, but try to hide those feelings especially from the senior¿s wacky Yankee spouse. Even a sergeant she meets on a train heading east finds he cannot resist the lure of Grace. <P>Perhaps, the males find the amazing teacher just a bit to flaky for them almost as if she is a flame and they are moths. She daringly reads poetry to her students. Who knows what other wild ideas she might unleash on an unsuspecting man? As the war draws closer to an end, which lucky male will earn Grace¿s love? <P> GRACE is a fabulous period piece that brings home life in a small Texas town during World War II. Though the story line centers on Grace, it contains several intriguing subplots that allow the audience a better understanding of her admirers and their need for distance. The key cast members are fully developed either through their respective relationship with Grace or with their own family members. Still, this is Grace¿s novel and she shines throughout just as much as author Jane Roberts Wood does. <P>Harriet Klausner

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