The Mystery of Graceby Charles de Lint
On the Day of the Dead, the Solona Music Hall is jumping. That's where Altagracia Quintero meets John Burns, just two weeks too late.
Altagracia – her friends call her Grace – has a tattoo of Nuestra Señora de Altagracia on her shoulder, she's got a Ford Motor Company tattoo running down her leg, and she has grease worked so deep into her hands
On the Day of the Dead, the Solona Music Hall is jumping. That's where Altagracia Quintero meets John Burns, just two weeks too late.
Altagracia – her friends call her Grace – has a tattoo of Nuestra Señora de Altagracia on her shoulder, she's got a Ford Motor Company tattoo running down her leg, and she has grease worked so deep into her hands that it'll never wash out. Grace works at Sanchez Motorworks, customizing hot rods. Finding the line in a classic car is her calling.
Now Grace has to find the line in her own life. A few blocks around the Alverson Arms is all her world -- from the little grocery store where she buys beans, tamales, and cigarettes ("cigarettes can kill you," they tell her, but she smokes them anyway) to the record shop, to the library where Henry, a black man confined to a wheelchair, researches the mystery of life in death – but she's got unfinished business keeping her close to home.
Grace loves John, and John loves her, and that would be wonderful, except that John, like Grace, has unfinished business – he's haunted by the childhood death of his younger brother. He's never stopped feeling responsible. Like Grace in her way, John is an artist, and before their relationship can find its resolution, the two of them will have to teach each other about life and love, about hot rods and Elvis Presley, and about why it's necessary to let some things go.
Prolific Canadian fantasist de Lint, recently focused on YA (Dingo), returns to adult fiction with a supernatural love story set in the American Southwest and an odd afterlife. Following her death, auto restorer Altagracia "Grace" Quintero awakens in a timeless realm inhabited by her recently deceased neighbors. Briefly returned to our world during Halloween night, Grace falls in love with John, a young artist, and he returns the feeling even when he discovers her condition. As the obvious pun in the title indicates, this tale of attachments formed and relinquished is also about belief and hope. De Lint doesn't endorse any particular religious system, but he writes passionately about the individual's ability to discover an effective personal magic. The story develops through comforting, warm compassion to reach the inevitable, mostly satisfying solution. (Mar.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Mechanic and old car lover Altagracia "Grace" Quintero falls in love with artist John Burns despite differences that make their relationship all but impossible: they inhabit different worlds, the living world and the "other side." Unlike the author's urban fantasies, this stand-alone work draws from the rich culture of the Southwest as well as the flashy world of antique cars and rockabilly music, with love and loss providing background motifs. An essential purchase that should appeal to a wide readership.
“Charles de Lint is the modern master of urban fantasy. Folktale, myth, fairy tale, dreams, urban legend—all of it adds up to pure magic in de Lint’s vivid, original world. No one does it better.” Alice Hoffman
- Tom Doherty Associates
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Read an Excerpt
She woke up when he got out of bed. As she lay there, listening to him pee, it occurred to her that she’d actually been sleeping. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a real sleep. She stretched languorously, appreciating the pull on her muscles and how the sheets slid across her skin. When the toilet flushed, she sat up to watch him return to bed, but he didn’t climb back in. Instead, he sat at the end, pulling up his feet to sit cross-legged on the comforter.
"I killed my brother," he said.
He lifted a hand. "Oh, I don’t mean literally. I killed him by neglect."
She leaned back against the headboard, pulling the sheets up over her breasts. A moment ago, she’d been comfortable with her nudity. Now she felt uneasy and goose bumps marched up her arms. She realized that for all their earlier intimacy, this was still a stranger’s room. He was still a stranger, and she wasn’t sure she liked the turn the evening had suddenly taken. No, scratch "evening." Make that late, late night. Almost morning.
If she couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a real sleep, she really couldn’t remember the last time she’d gone home from a club with a stranger. But he’d seemed so nice. He still seemed nice. Except right at this moment she didn’t trust that he actually was what he seemed.
"Why are you telling me this?" she asked.
"I don’t know. It’s the anniversary of his death—he’s always on my mind at Halloween. And I find that any time I’m really, really happy, I think of him and how it’s one more thing he’ll never get to experience."
"That’s messed up."
"You’re still not saying why you’re telling me this."
He shrugged. Those dark brown eyes of his settled their gaze on hers and she found it hard not to melt into their warmth.
"I know we’ve just met," he said, "but I felt this real connection with you, right from the first moment."
She smiled, and relaxed a little.
"You don’t need a pickup line anymore," she said. "I’m already in your bed."
He smiled back. "I know. I guess I just wanted to share an... I don’t know... intimacy with you."
She let the sheets fall and scooted over the bed until she was sitting right in front of him, cross-legged as well, their knees bumping. She took his hands.
"Tell me what happened," she said.
It wasn’t a long story, but it was long enough. His bedroom windows faced west, so neither of them saw the dawn pinking the city’s skyline. She wanted to tell him what happened wasn’t really his fault, but she knew that wasn’t the way this kind of guilt worked. Intellectually, he already knew that. It was his emotions that were tripping him up. The tangle of love and memory and what might have been.
She wanted to make love to him again, but a pressure in her bladder told her that first she needed to use the toilet herself. She leaned forward and they shared a lingering kiss.
"Hold that thought," she said as his hand rose to her breast. "I just need to pee."
He stayed on the bed when she got up, listening to her use the toilet as she’d listened to him use it earlier. He waited, but there was no sound of flushing. There was no sound at all. After another few moments, he turned around.
"Are you okay in there?" he asked.
There was no response.
He got up and walked barefoot across the hardwood floor. The sun was up now. When he reached the bathroom door, he could see that the small room was empty. He stepped over to the bathtub and pushed the shower curtain aside. She wasn’t there either.
He’d had his back to the bathroom, but surely he would have heard her leave the bedroom. So where did she go? She hadn’t come through the bedroom. The only other way out was through the bathroom window, but it was too small to crawl out of and he would have heard the squeak of it opening because it always got stuck halfway up.
He backed out of the bathroom and looked around his bedroom. That was when he noticed the scatter of his clothes on the floor by the bed. His clothes. Hers weren’t there.
Had he fallen asleep and she’d slipped out without him noticing?
He knew he hadn’t, so she couldn’t have.
Had she even been here in the first place?
That was an odd thought, except suddenly he wasn’t sure of the answer. Real people didn’t vanish into thin air.
He could remember her every detail. All the tattoos. The smell of her hair. The silky touch of her skin contrasting against the rougher texture of her hands—a mechanic’s hands, she’d told him. He could remember her enthusiastic participation in their lovemaking, and his penis still had a touch of postcoital thickness.
He’d definitely had sex with someone—unless he’d just been jerking off in his sleep.
He sat on the bed and stared out the window for a long moment before he went through the apartment, turning on lights.
There was no one here.
It didn’t look like there’d ever been anyone else here.
Great. He’d just fallen in love with a dream. Or a hallucination.
And surprising as that was, falling in love was exactly what had happened. He’d fallen for a woman he’d only just met, and fallen hard. Except it appeared that she was imaginary.
He rubbed his face with his hands. Halloween was always bad. It had been ever since the night Tim died. He’d always been able to bear the pain of the anniversary with a certain stoicism, hiding it from the world at large, staying busy, making sure he was around people so that he didn’t have time to brood. But no matter how much he tried to distract himself, eventually he had to come back to the apartment, where the memories lay in wait.
To night had been different. He’d met Grace. She’d come home with him. They’d talked for hours, made love, fallen asleep in each other’s arms.
Except he’d only imagined her. He’d imagined all of it. The sex. Feeling this incredible, immediate bond with her. Even sharing the story of Tim’s death, which he never did with strangers . . .
Then his gaze rested on the two wineglasses standing on the coffee table. He remembered opening the bottle when they got back from the club. They’d each had a glass. There was still residue at the bottom of the glasses and the wine bottle on the table beside them was half full. More to the point, there was lipstick on the rim of one glass.
He looked back into the bedroom.
So she had been here.
But if that was true, if he hadn’t just imagined her, then how the hell had she disappeared?
He waited until the hour was vaguely reasonable—staring at the clock until the digital numbers finally changed to seven—before he picked up the phone and called Danny. It rang a half dozen times before Danny finally picked up.
"Man," he said, his voice thick with sleep, "if you’re selling something, it better be good."
"What could anyone sell you? You’ve already got everything you need."
"My point exactly." Danny paused for a moment, then added, "Jesus, John. It’s seven o’clock in the morning."
"Yeah, I know. Sorry about that. I just need you to answer a question for me."
"The answer is: yeah, you’re a dipstick. Now can I go back to sleep?"
"At the club last night," John said. "Was I with a woman?"
"Are you kidding me?"
John’s heart sank. He knew it had been too good to be true. Except then Danny went on.
"She was awesome, man. I mean, not cover girl pretty, but a genuine looker. And seriously hot. Kat Von D hot, what with the tats and all."
"Come on. Didn’t you ever watch L.A. Ink?"
"I don’t have a TV."
"And that’s something we need to have a serious conversation about. Who doesn’t have a TV? What happened to you, man? You used to be just as much of a media geek as the rest of us."
"I’ve got a computer."
Danny laughed. "That’s like saying you’ve got a cell phone. These days, everybody’s got both. Hell, my grandfather’s got a BlackBerry and I can remember having to set the time on his VCR whenever I went over to visit because he couldn’t figure even that out. Forget taping a show. But now? He’s like this tech pro, downloading game scores and weather forecasts, sending text messages to my mom and dad. You totally need to get back into the game."
John didn’t bother to argue the point. He was too high on the swell of possibilities filling his head and his heart to even really pay much attention.
She was real.
He still had no idea how she’d left his apartment without him seeing her go, but that was completely overshadowed by Danny’s confirmation.
"So why were you asking about that woman you left with last night?" Danny asked.
He laughed when John finished explaining.
"What?" Danny said. "You think you’re such a loser that you made her up? Get real, Burns. Everywhere we go, women are always giving you the eye. It’s like I was saying last night. You’re this total chick magnet."
"Oh, come on."
"And I guess what’s so appealing to them is that you’re oblivious to it."
"I think you’re—"
"She went home with you, didn’t she? Do you think she’d just go home with anybody?"
"I hope not."
"Anyway, I wouldn’t worry about it. If you guys got on as well as you say you did, she’ll probably be calling you soon. Or you can always ask Nina to find out who she is. I think she knew everybody at the Solona Music Hall last night."
"She didn’t know her."
"Well, someone must."
"I guess. That was a quite a crowd there last night."
"Tell me about it. And some of those Wicca girls are totally hot. Who knew? I thought they’d be all, you know, not so much."
John didn’t bother to ask why. Danny was a sweet guy, but sometimes he just got too focused on women and their hotness factor.
"And Helen," Danny went on. "That girl you saw me talking to? I didn’t get lucky like you, but she totally wants to get together again." He paused a moment, then added, "Unless she gave me a bogus number. Aw, man, what if she gave me a bogus number?"
"I’m sure she didn’t."
"Says the guy who calls to confirm that he even met someone last night."
John laughed. "I should go. Sorry about getting you up so early."
"That’s okay. You owe me a favor now, right?"
"I suppose . . ."
"And we totally need some new concept drawings for the Addison DVD. They want something edgier for when we come out of that intro clip into the main menu."
John sighed. "And when do you need them by?"
"I’ll see what I can do."
But when he went to his drawing board after he hung up the phone and picked up a piece of charcoal, he found himself sketching Grace’s features on the paper tacked to the board instead.
The need to see her again was like an ache in his chest.
Excerpted from The Mystery of Grace by Charles de Lint.
Copyright © 2009 by Charles de Lint.
Published in March 2010 by Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
Meet the Author
Charles de Lint and his wife, the artist MaryAnn Harris, live in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. His evocative novels, including Moonheart, Forests of the Heart, and The Onion Girl, have earned him a devoted following and critical acclaim as a master of contemporary magical fiction in the manner of storytellers like John Crowley, Jonathan Carroll, Alice Hoffman, Ray Bradbury, and Isabel Allende.
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The Mystery of Grace
Charles De Lint
Tor, Mar 2009, $24.95
After her beloved grandfather died, Altagracia Quintero falls into a deep depression. They lovingly had worked together restoring old Fords so they ran smoothly and he was her best friend. Grace goes to the local bodega to buy cigarettes only to become caught in a junkie robbing the grocer. He shoots her and the next she knows she is back in her apartment in the Alverson Arms. A woman she does not know is there informing her she is dead and in a small dimensional place because she died so close to her building; Grace thinks cigarettes do kill you.
Everyone can return to earth twice a year; on Halloween and On the Day of the Dead, but no one will recognize Grace if she goes back. She becomes friendly with a teenager Conchita who had a rough life. When she returns she meets John Burns at the Solona Music Hall. They fall in love, but she disappears while in his bathroom. His research into her life informs him he loves a ghost as she has been dead for a few weeks. He now knows when he will see her next so he waits for her appearance on Samheim night. Before she disappears Grace and Conchita sneak into the Alverson Arms where they enter the other dimension to learn more about their new home especially why they are trapped there. Grace gives the inhabitants a choice to pass on to the next place in exchange for what they know.
Where Grace ends up after dying is an artificial construct surrounded by a mist in which people walk through it and end up on the other side of town. Through perseverance, she investigates to learn what is going on, but finding out where she is does not mean she is less trapped; but it does encourage her to continue to seek freedom for her and Conchita. This fascinating urban fantasy entertains the audience who will wonder what exactly the afterlife is. Charles De Lint provides his delightful fantasy version.
This is my first time reading a Charles de Lint book and I have to say that, despite a great start, I was quite disappointed in the ending. I rarely buy a hardcover book unless it seems worthy to be in my permanent library. I bought the book after reading the first few pages at my local B&N. After carefully crafting a world based on a variety of urban legends, I expected de Lint to have great antagonist. Instead the antagonist was a rather flat character, and the struggle between the antagonist and protagonist was almost nonexistent. The ending held such promise, instead, it was truly anticlimactic. It seems as though de Lint didn't know how to bring this book to a close. It left me asking, "That's it?" Truly, the "mystery" of this story is why the author couldn't muster a better ending. Fortunately, I'll give de Lint another chance in the future, however, I think I'll go to my local library this time.
I usually love works by this author, but this was a big bust. I think it's probably the worst thing he's ever written. If this was the first thing I'd ever read of his, I'd never buy another. I can only hope that this one is a fluke and his next one is better. If the next is as bad as this one, I won't buy more.
I've loved Charles De Lint's novels since one beckoned to me way back in the mid 80's and I've been hooked on his books ever since then. He has a way of crafting a fantasy novel that makes the reader believe it's not fantasy but reality. His characters just seem to leap off the pages. His Newford novels always make me think I'm visiting old friends. This stand alone book is no exception, drawing the reader in quickly and easily and never letting go until the final page. I was thrilled to have Charles go back to crafting adult novels after he'd done a few teen oriented ones in a row, which are great reading too.
I've always been impressed by Charles de Lint. His prose is excelent, and his ideas truely original. The Mystery of Grace is no exception to his high quality fantasy. It has one of the most unusual love stories I've ever encountered, and a truely great premise. The novel is a bit on the short side, but it doesn't leave you feeling like you've missed something. I was very impressed.
Excellent storytelling and interesting characters. I greatly enjoyed this book.
This should be in the religion section not the Sci-Fi Fantasy section. This book starts off with a mysterious tattooed girl, sex, passion, and magic. It ends with religion, saints, faith and god. I feel like I was going on a date with a beautiful girl, but instead got taken to a bible study class. I'm only sorry I didn't quit reading the last 20 pages, when it was finally clear where the author was going.
I loved it. As usual tge characters were real, believable, and easy to love.
I really enjoyed reading this book. It was hard for me to put down and when I did all I wanted to do was pick right back up. The plot was unique and after I read the last line in the book I was left wondering about the fate of the characters. The Mystery of Grace has a little bit of everything, drama, suspense, love, and ghost. I totally recomend this book.