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SAVING GRACE is an intricately textured book, a portrayal of a family in crisis and an exploration of the intersection between public and private lives. Library Journal called SAVING GRACE the book that "Bonfire of the Vanities tried to be."
"Intelligent, absorbing...sheer enjoyment."
"Comfortably packed with complications and characters so that readers are quickly enmeshed and will be staying up all hours to see what happens next...what BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES tried to be."
GRACIE ANSWERED THE DOOR. A bearded stranger stood on the step. Beat-up leather jacket, jeans, a friendly smile, and sharp, reporter's eyes.
"Hi," he said. "Would Jonathan be in, I wonder?"
"Who are you?"
"Barnaby. I write for the Probe."
Her gray eyes narrowed. "He's not in. If he were, he'd slam the door in your face."
He noticed that she didn't and leaned against the lintel. "You know who I am, then. He's mentioned me."
"Sure. In the same breath with Jack the Ripper."
"Well, he's pissed," he said with an aw-shucks kind of look. "I can understand that."
"Michael Kavin happens to be his best friend."
"That's why I'm here. Look, do you mind if I come in for a second? I don't want to be crude, but I'm about to burst."
Gracie stepped back. After using the bathroom, Barnaby detoured into the living room. He looked about appraisingly. Then he looked at her the same way.
Her face was coming back to him now. Last time he'd seen it, it was attached to a little girl, ten, eleven years old. A picture came to him of a skinny kid standing on a stage, haranguing a roomful of adults. The hoyden had metamorphosed into a beautiful girl, with a feminine version of her father's face; she had Jonathan's high cheekbones, olive skin, black hair, and gray eyes with flecks of green. Barnaby smiled.
"Little Gracie, all grown up. How old are you now?"
"Eighteen," she said.
"You look a lot like your old man, only prettier."
"You've got nerve, showing up here."
"It's the job." He sat in her father's armchair, stretching out his legs. "In private life, I'm a very bashful guy."
"I can tell."
"So, you've read my stuff?"
"Everybody reads your stuff."
He nodded. In the circles they moved in, everyone did read his stuff. "What do you think?"
"I used to think you were pretty good."
"Till it hit too close to home?"
"Till you lost your fucking mind."
"You think I made it up, all that stuff about Kavin?"
"You'd better get your ass out of here before my father comes home."
"Answer the question."
"What's it to you what I think?"
"I'm curious. You don't remember me, but I remember you. You still have opinions, Gracie?"
She looked at him. Her eyes were older than her face, which lent her an air of anachronism, like a sepia portrait in modern dress.
"Good-bye, Barnaby," she said.
He let her walk him out. Halfway down the path he turned to look back. Grace was leaning against the door with her arms folded, a watchful sentry. He heard himself say, for no fathomable reason, "Come see me. Come to the Probe. I'll show you around."
"Beard the lion in his den?"
She turned and went into the house.
* * *
One week later, Gracie gave her name to a receptionist and sat for some minutes in the dingiest waiting room she'd ever seen. Just as she was about to leave, regretting the impulse that had brought her, Barnaby appeared. "You came. Good for you!" He showed her around the office, introducing her by first name only to people whose names, first and last, were well-known to her. Later they sat in a coffee shop on East Broadway and talked for hours about all sorts of things. Jonathan was not mentioned.
* * *
On a fine spring morning, one Sunday early in May, the Fleishman family sat in the breakfast room, French doors open to admit the sweet herbal breeze that wafted in from Lily's garden. The table was laid for five. Jonathan sat at the head, Lily at the foot; between them sat their son, Paul, ensconced in the financial section of the Times, and beside him Clara, Jonathan's mother. The fifth setting was untouched.
Gracie wandered in as they were finishing, holding a book before her face. Without looking up, she took her customary seat beside her father. Lily put aside the Times Entertainment section and sat up straight, as if the new arrival were her governess rather than her daughter.
"Say good morning, Gracie," prompted Jonathan.
She glanced briefly round the table. "Good morning."
"Did you sleep well?" Lily asked.
Clara clicked her tongue against her dentures. "The food's cold already. You want I should make you an egg?"
"No, thanks." Gracie turned a page.
"Eyes not even open, and already with the books. You can't live from books, my darling."
"I'm not hungry."
"Why should you be hungry? You don't do nothing."
Jonathan and Lily exchanged a look. Jonathan shrugged slightly. When his mother got going, she could not be stopped, only tuned out. And Gracie was good at that.
Gracie contrived to pour a cup of coffee without lifting her eyes from the page.
Clara said, "It's not right. A young girl should go out, meet people, not sit home alone."
No one answered her, but Paul sighed.
"And you, Mr. Big Shot College Boy, you can't bring home a nice boy for your sister, such a beautiful girl?"
Paul, who privately felt his friends could do better, shrugged behind the paper.
"Mama," said Jonathan, "I don't think Gracie needs a matchmaker just yet." He turned to his daughter and, with the clear intention of changing the subject, asked what she was reading.
"Lord of the Rings."
"Didn't you read that years ago?"
She raised her eyes to his. "I read it every year. I like it. You can tell the good guys from the bad."
Jonathan flushed. This was Grade's specialty, the unprovoked assault disguised as conversation. This time, though, he was determined not to be drawn in. "Then you ought to read westerns," he said. "I recommend Zane Grey."
"Again with the books," Clara complained. "A man she can't bring home. Whoever heard of a eighteen-year-old girl don't go out?"
"For your information," Gracie snapped, "I am going out with someone."
In the silence that followed, Paul lowered his paper and stared at his sister. "You?" She stuck her tongue out at him.
"Who is he, Gracie?" Lily asked.
She pushed back a wedge of long black hair and scowled into her cup. "Just somebody."
"Thanks God," Clara said. "What does he do, this somebody?"
"He's a writer."
"A writer? From this he makes a living?"
"Good question, Grandma. I'll check his tax returns."
"What does he write, this writer?"
Her father gave her a suspicious look. "What's his name?"
"Barnaby," she said reluctantly.
Jonathan turned his hands palm-upward on the table and gazed into them, as if reading his own fortune. "Oh, Gracie."
Lily looked from her husband to her daughter. "Barnaby ... not that bastard who wrote about Michael?"
"That's the one," Gracie said.
"How could you?" said Jonathan.
She found she could not quite meet his gaze. "You used to like him. You called him the best goddamn investigative reporter in the city."
"He used to be. Then one morning he woke up and discovered he was God."
"He's not like that."
"Christ Almighty, Gracie. Everything else aside, he must be twice your age."
"Age doesn't matter," she informed him airily.
Jonathan slammed the table. "He's crucifying Michael! Does that matter? He's damn near destroyed him already with his lies!"
"If they're lies, how could they destroy him?"
"Don't talk like a child."
"Jonathan," Lily said, "take it easy."
He glared at her. "Our daughter is dating the Charles Manson of journalism and you want me to take it easy?"
"Really, Dad, chill," Gracie said. "It's not like he's writing about you."
"Not yet," Jonathan said grimly. "Let me tell you something that should have been obvious. If that son of a bitch is chasing you, he's got a reason."
"Naturally I couldn't be the reason."
He looked at her and softened. "Use those brains of yours. Ask yourself what does a man of his age and experience want with a teenager?"
Gracie threw down her napkin and strode to the door she'd entered just minutes ago.
"Get back here!" Jonathan bellowed. "Gracie, I forbid you ..." But she was already gone.
* * *
"Of course she's getting at us," Lily said serenely. "That's the whole point." She sat at her dressing table, watching Jonathan in the mirror.
"What the hell are we being punished for? For giving her a beautiful home, two beautiful homes? The finest education, travel, the best of every goddamn thing?" As he spoke, Jonathan paced up and down. Spacious as their bedroom was, it offered little scope for his rage. "What awful thing did we do to her, that she should treat me with such contempt?"
"God knows," sighed Lily, who also had some idea, but wouldn't think of voicing it. They had tacitly agreed to treat Grade's attitude as normal adolescent rebellion, carried to her usual extremes; Jonathan's question was rhetorical. Catching his eye in the mirror, she said soothingly, "Not contempt."
"She's arrogant and hypercritical. Sometimes I think that girl lives to thwart me."
"She loves you, Jonathan."
"She's got a hell of a way of showing it. Thank God we have one normal child."
"Don't call him normal in that condescending tone!" cried Lily, Paul's constant protector.
"I didn't mean it like that," Jonathan said, but he had. Though he had long since schooled himself against comparisons, the immutable fact remained that Grace was the child of his heart: She shared his nature; she was, even in strife, undeniably his. Whereas Paul, a good boy, polite, grateful for what he was given, ambitious for more, a kid who knew how to use his advantages, seemed to Jonathan a separate entity, a satellite supported by but unattached to his base.
Paul was a good student who had to work for every A he got. Gracie was different, cursed or blessed with both passion and a driving intelligence that had manifested itself almost from infancy. She was a difficult baby, a tempestuous toddler, prone to tantrums when ability fell short of desire, a self-taught reader from the age of four, a politician from the day she started school. In kindergarten she negotiated with the teacher for more free play for the class, and got it. In fourth grade she fought a successful campaign to ban Styrofoam in the lunchroom. In class she was outspoken, attentive and negligent by turns, impatient with superficial explanations, a human litmus test for good teachers. Jonathan had delighted in her conversation, her prodigious vocabulary. Gracie, in turn, adored him. She saved all his clippings and speeches and pasted them into a scrap- book. A photograph of Jonathan with Martin Luther King Jr. took pride of place on her desk.
Jonathan loved his son, but in his life he'd had no greater pleasure than watching young Gracie unfold her wings. Remembering those days before his daughter walled herself off from him saddened Jonathan. He could no longer reach her.
* * *
Alone in her room, Gracie wrote in her diary, which in brevity if not in matter appeared less like a teenager's journal than a captain's log.
If he's after you, Dad said, he's got a motive. As if I hadn't thought of that. As if I didn't know I've got nothing to attract a man like Barnaby.
Naturally Dad hates him. Like Jonathan, Barnaby has principles. Unlike Jonathan, he lives by his.
* * *
Jonathan walked through the garden, which was beginning to bloom after a cold April. The rush of city traffic, diffuse and muffled, wafted in on the breeze, but within the terra-cotta walls of Lily's bower the air was fragrant with a warm earthy smell. He sat on a cast-iron bench beside a small reflecting pond. The water cast up an image of a successful, well-tended man in early middle age, a face still lean but softened by comfort, black hair streaked with gray, weathered skin, watchful gray eyes that absorbed more than they revealed: a handsome, even distinguished face, but not the one he thought of as his. In this, Jonathan was rather like an actor who has played one role for so long that his character's features have melded inseparably with his own.
He tossed a pebble into the pool, and the image fractured. There was a knot in his gut, compliments of his daughter, tough little Gracie. When she was young and adoring, Jonathan used to brag about that toughness. Now that she had turned it against him, the trait was less endearing.
A stupid misunderstanding had started it all, a molehill she'd made into a mountain. Six years ago, they had quarreled; since that time, Gracie had hardened her heart against him. Her eyes, once full of admiration, regarded him with suspicion. His every word was subject to willful misconstruction. She would not see him as he was.
As a child she used to sit at his feet and beg for stories of the time he and Michael Kavin traversed the country as troubleshooting civil-rights lawyers, Have-Writ-Will-Travel adventurers. Since their quarrel, however, when he told those stories Grade's eyes would glaze over and she would soon find an excuse to leave the room. All her cleverness and ingenuity, once allied to his, she turned to goading him. And Gracie knew how to goad.
The last fight before the Barnaby affair had been the worst of all. In the middle of a festive family dinner celebrating her acceptance to Harvard, Gracie announced her decision not to go to college.
Jonathan's head had clanged like a construction site; he could scarcely hear his own voice for the ringing in his ears. "You don't know what you're throwing away," he told her. "For the rest of your life people will talk differently, listen differently, think differently of you because you went to Harvard."
"There are more important things in life than going to Harvard."
"Not many. And you wouldn't know them if they up and bit you on the nose."
Gracie gave him a look of horror. "How can you say that?"
Jonathan wondered himself, wondered too at the perversity of the fate that caused him to say to his daughter just the sort of that had driven him wild as a kid. Perhaps it wasn't fate, but some perverse quality in Gracie. Jonathan often had imaginary talks with his daughter in which he calmly, rationally explained his life and values. But even in imagination she was unruly: she answered back impertinently, turned his own words against him, goaded him to anger. His actual conversations with the girl rode the crest of the imaginary ones, so that even before she opened her mouth, he was angry and defensive.
And when she did open her mouth, it was worse. With Jonathan's inanities about Harvard echoing in the room, Gracie had stared into his face and begun whistling a tune. He'd taught her to whistle, and she was good. The tune was "Blowing in the Wind." His generation's anthem, not hers.
Now he sat in the garden and tossed stones at his reflection in the pool. He thought about that damn Dylan song and Gracie's gift for fracturing continuity. Jonathan was and had ever been a man of his times. By sabotaging the transitional years, she made a mockery of what he had become.
He closed his eyes and inhaled the sharp, clean scent of fallow earth. I know who I am, he thought. I haven't changed. And if he was a proud man, he had reason to be; for he had faithfully adhered to his principles without sacrificing his family. He had done well and done right, and how many men could say that?
The screen door creaked and he opened his eyes. Gracie was coming into the garden. As soon as she saw Jonathan, she turned and went back inside the house.
* * *
That evening, she stood before Barnaby's door, panting slightly from the stairs. Apartment 503 had no name on the bell, but a jaunty green feather was stuck under the apartment number. She put her ear to the door and listened for a long time. There was noise from the street and adjacent apartments, but none from inside. He's not home, Gracie thought. He forgot. The invitation had been vague, tossed off as they parted. "Sunday evening at Maxie's, a bunch of writers and other lowlife. Come along if you like." A favor carelessly bestowed. Convinced he hadn't meant it, feeling like a fool, Gracie knocked once for the hell of it and turned to go.
Suddenly the door opened and he stood in the entrance, a tall, loose-jointed man with a beard and mustache and shaggy brown hair. He had enormous, capable farmer's hands, an easy grin, and warm brown eyes bracketed by laugh lines. Gracie thought of a benevolent Jesse James.
"Hello, Grace," he said, smiling down at her.
"I thought you'd gone already," she blurted.
"Now, why would I do that?" He threw open the door and stepped back. "'Come into my parlor,' said the spider to the fly."
She laughed and followed him in.
Excerpted from Saving Grace by Barbara Rogan. Copyright © 1991 Barbara Rogan. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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