Saving Grace

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Overview

This is why I have had to come back now, traveling these dusty old back roads one more time. For I mean to tell my story, and I mean to tell the truth. I am a believer in the Word, and I am not going to flinch from telling it, not even the terrible things…
 
Florida Grace Shepherd, eleventh child of the itinerant, snake-handling Reverend Virgil Shepherd, grew up traveling across the Appalachian South. In her heart, she raged against the ...

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Saving Grace

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Overview

This is why I have had to come back now, traveling these dusty old back roads one more time. For I mean to tell my story, and I mean to tell the truth. I am a believer in the Word, and I am not going to flinch from telling it, not even the terrible things…
 
Florida Grace Shepherd, eleventh child of the itinerant, snake-handling Reverend Virgil Shepherd, grew up traveling across the Appalachian South. In her heart, she raged against the constant hardships that her parents insisted were part of the Lord’s plan. As she got older, she learned of her father’s “backsliding” with other women, and watched as it drove her mother to an early grave.
 
Returning to Scrabble Creek, where her happiest memories took place, Grace recounts the harrowing journey of her life with the Lord, from her travels with her father to the day she finally broke free of him only to marry another preacher much older than she, as well as her own stumbles along the rocky and winding path to her own redemption.
 

With "an ear for speech and a voice that most other writers can only envy" ( The New York Times Book Review), the author of Oral History has created a darkly comic and compelling novel about Gracie, blessed with a gift she doesn't want, who pursues earthly and divine love on a road that comes to a disturbing but inevitable conclusion.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for SAVING GRACE:

"Evocative...Lyric, poetic and subtly cosmic...her best yet." —San Francisco Chronicle

"Lucid in execution, breathtaking in scope and hear-rending in effect—a redemptive work of art." —The Washington Post Book World

"A Compelling journey into all matters southern and spiritual." —The Boston Sunday Globe

"Smith is peerless at evoking an entire world with a detail or two...The comedy is rich, and the sense of place is intense." —Detroit Free Press 

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Florida Grace Shepherd is another of Smith's spirited Southern women of humble background Fair and Tender Ladies, etc. who are destined to endure difficult and often tragic times. Instantly appealing by virtue of her distinctive narrative voice, which is iconoclastic and free from self-pity, Grace is the daughter of Virgil Shepherd, a self-styled minister who spreads the gospel in revival meetings by means of serpent handling and personal charisma. Even as a child, ``Gracie'' hates her father's insistence on constant prayer, poverty and the need to see God's benevolent ``testing'' in every hardship to which he subjects his family. As she matures, she realizes that her father is a compulsive womanizer who excuses his frequent lapses by claiming that God forgives him whenever he ``backslides.'' Though his behavior eventually drives her mother to suicide, it takes longer for Grace herself to escape her father's psychic clutches. She is seduced by a half-brother at 14 and at 17 marries a melancholy 42-year-old preacher; she has two children and succumbs to an adulterous affair. Smith has great empathy for the poor, uneducated country people who yearn for a transcendent message to infuse their lives with spiritual meaning, and she demonstrates clearly how an aberrant individual like Virgil can attract fervent followers. She is less successful than usual in winning sympathy for her flawed heroine, however. Although she makes understandable the reasons for Grace's shallow personality and shows how a lifetime of sexual repression can trigger infidelity, Grace's abandonment of her children seems implausible, and her suffering never achieves a convincing poignancy. Literary Guild selection. May
School Library Journal
YA-Florida Grace Shepard, named for the state in which she was born and for the grace of God, is the daughter of a charismatic serpent-handling preacher. She is content with her early life in Scrabble Creek, North Carolina-no easy task when her family moves whenever her father is arrested for conducting services with live snakes-and she even finds a friend. With Southern style, Smith takes Grace from a young girl struggling with her own identity, though marriage, motherhood, and an adulterous affair that changes her very way of life. Readers go along on a journey of wonders, miracles, and tragedy with all the people Grace meets. This is not a tale of adventure but rather of Southern life and spiritual searching.-Katherine Fitch, Lake Braddock Middle School, Burke, VA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780425267288
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/3/2013
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 536,656
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Lee Smith is the New York Times bestselling author of numerous novels, including Saving Grace and The Last Girls. One of the most distinctive literary voices to portray the American South, Smith has won the O. Henry Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Fiction, and the Southern Book Critics Circle Award.

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Interviews & Essays

A CONVERSATION WITH LEE SMITH

Susan Ketchin is a musician and university teacher who has been teaching Lee Smith's work for many years.  She is author of The Christ-Haunted Landscape:  Faith and Doubt in Southern Fiction which includes interviews with Lee and eleven other writers about the origins of their faith and their literary imagination.

SUSAN KETCHIN: In reading Saving Grace, the reader is drawn deeply into an entirely different, almost completely unknown world, the strange, often frightening world of the "holly rollers," "snake handlers," and religious " fanatics" of the rural South. How did you prepare yourself to write the novel? What kinds of research did you do in preparation? Were you able to visit or witness first hand any of the rituals and worship services described in the book?

LEE SMITH: Well, you know I grew up in the Appalachian mountain area of far southwest Virginia, so I'd heard about serpent-handling all my life. As a girl, I attended such services as are in this novel from time to time, mostly–I'm ashamed to say–to gape and gawk. First we were taken by an older friend, mostly to scare us, I think now–and he succeeded admirably! Then later I went over the mountain to the famous serpent-handling church at Jolo, West Virginia, several times with a group of my girlfriends. We sat way at the back and didn't say a word, then we'd scream with laughter, and pent-up fear, probably, as we drove down the hairpin curves on our way home. But I'll tell you, those are strong images, indelible images, and they never left me. Later, I became interested in this form of religion again when I was writing theintroduction to a book of photographs which contained several similar shots taken at services in eastern Kentucky. I have always been interested in religion, especially in forms of ecstatic religion, where people are touched directly by the Spirit and go completely out of themselves. I always knew I wanted to write about this one way or the other, but it was not until I was talking to a woman just after a service in eastern Kentucky that this novel really began to take shape in my mind.

SK: Is that how Saving Grace got started?

LS: Yes, I had been to a church where I had witnessed a woman hold a double handful of copperheads aloft, up over her head–and then when it was all over, there she was, just as normal and down-to-earth as anybody, just as normal as I was. In fact, I realized, we were about the same age, and of course we were from the same section of the country, and we even looked alike… I was seized with curiosity. "Why do you do such a dangerous thing?" I asked her.

She just looked at me for a moment, then broke out in what I can only describe as a joyful, even beatific smile. "Why honey," she exclaimed, "I do it out of an intense desire for holiness! And I'll tell you something else," she went on. "When you've had the serpent in your arms, the whole world kind of takes on an edge for you."
I gasped. The hair on my arms stood up. I had been a newspaper reporter, and when I heard a great line, I knew it. I was hooked.

Plus, there was that other thing I mentioned–that sense of recognition. Except for the accidents of family and circumstance, I could have been her. Suddenly I was dying to see how she had come to this point where she could face a stranger and say such a thing.

I knew I had to write a novel in order to find out. So then I really started doing a lot of research. I went back to visit the church in Jolo. I talked to several serpent-handling believers myself, read many oral histories compiled by documentarians, and viewed all the films on the subject that I could find. I was especially struck by Thomas Burton's fine book, Serpent-Handling Believers (University of Tennessee Press, 1993). I read William James' Varieties of Religious Experience and other works on ecstatic religions of all kinds. I read psychology. I read the New Testament again and again, trying to get that cadence and that literal interpretation in my head. I went a lot of different churches; I listened to a lot of preaching on the radio. I got in my car and drove the back roads all over eastern Tennessee and Kentucky and southwest Virginia and West Virginia until I could somehow see it, see the scenes of Grace's life in my mind. By then I knew she was named Grace, and I knew what was going to happen to her. I could hear her voice. It all took shape in my mind while I was driving. In fact, this is the only book I ever wrote which had a road map rather than a plot, I guess.

SK: You have spoken about running across a Christian miniature golf course while you were traveling–where was that?

LS: Uncle Slidell's Christian Golf was out on the Nolensville Road, in Nashville, Tennessee, and I really didn't make anything about it up. It's still there, I guess. Fact really is stranger than fiction, you know.

SK: Did you know before you began that Grace's journey would end up the way it did?

LS: Well…sort of. Among the women whose stories I had heard, or read, I'd been struck by the fact that so often their lives had indeed come full circle. Several of the women who had grown up in the church had left it the very first chance they got; they had literally fled from it. But then once they were in the outer world, if things didn't go well, sometimes they'd come back. They'd miss that strong sense of community, of being chosen, of being known. This is what happens to my Grace. She says, "The fact is, I was not real good at modern life." So she returns. Personally, I didn't want her to do this–but I think it is what she would have done, given her lack of education and experience. Her lack of options. People often go back to what they know, whether it's good for them or not. Like a child who wants to return to an abusive family situation simply because it is familiar. Of course I like to think that by now, Grace has had enough of it and she's gotten herself some peer counseling in Knoxville, and a good job someplace, not in a bar…but I don't know. I just don't know. I saw her journey as a kind of Appalachian pilgrim's progress–or maybe it is a regress–through the dark places of the soul. I knew she had to tell her story in her own words, for she is a believer in the word, as she says, and her story is her testimony.

SK: Critics have often compared the characters in Saving Grace to those of Flannery O'Connor's "backwoods prophets," highly eccentric folk who are obsessed by the Holy Spirit, or "Christ-haunted," like Francis Marion Tarwater in The Violent Bear It Away, or Hazel Moats in Wise Blood who was so alienated from God and his identity/culture that he was seeking to establish a "Church of Christ Without Christ." What do you think is meant by this comparison?  Do you agree?

LS: I think it's true that rural America has always produced its own brand of "stump preachers" and visionaries of all sorts–especially in the South–and these people have certainly found their way into some fine literature. I'd be mighty honored to think I was keeping company with Flannery O'Connor, in particular. But I really feel that my own work is woefully pedestrian, by comparison–less thematic, less rigorous, less theological, less abstract…I am too caught up in the things of this world, such as chenille bedspreads and cute house painters and sausage biscuits. But Flannery O'Connor would have liked that miniature golf course, I admit.

SK: The title, Saving Grace, of course, has at least two meanings right off the bat-one is that this is a story about the salvation of Grace Shepard; the other echoes the old saying, "she/he/it was a 'saving grace,' meaning the last-ditch thing that saved a doomed person or situation.  Although this double-meaning is certainly enough, have you thought of others for this title?  Was the novel ever going to be named something else?  How did the title finally get settled upon?

LS: Actually, Susan, I had the hardest time naming this novel! Titles are always hard for me anyway. I must have had thirty titles for this one at one time or another, most of them having to do with journeys or roads or trips–The Trip to Salvation, Road Map to Heaven, etc. But my editor didn't like any of them, and I didn't like any of them enough to fight about it. Then when I was literally in the post office in Chapel Hill, N.C. about to mail the whole book into the publisher, I ran into a friend---who said, "Oh, is that your new book? And what's the title?" and when I confessed I didn't have one, she said, "Well, tell me about the book." So I did, and then she said, "Name it ‘Saving Grace.'" So I did. I always felt that it was a kind of grace that allowed me to run into her that day.

SK: About the same time that Saving Grace came out, Dennis Covington published a memoir, Salvation at Sand Mountain, about his ancestors in northern Alabama and a contemporary attempted murder case he was investigating as a Montgomery newspaper reporter that had involved poisonous snakes used in worship services.   It was a sensational account of a sensational event-the murder had been attempted by a husband against his wife, with the snakes as murder weapon.  How did you avoid sensationalizing or even overly dramatizing events and characters in Saving Grace?  It seems unusually difficult to make these characters believable (plausible) and really true to life, at the same time in such an "alien" world to us modern-day viewers/readers/worshipers, insulated as we are by Wal-Marts, air conditioning, fast food, and "counseling" and Prozac as cure-alls, etc.

First let me say that Salvation on Sand Mountain is a fascinating book which would make good reading for anybody interested in further books on this topic. Being non-fiction, it is a very different kind of book from Saving Grace,of course; actually, it's mostly about Covington himself, how a journalist became personally involved in the story he was covering–which WAS a sensational story, as you point out. And of course it's easy to satirize or sensationalize the practice of serpent-handling. But any world set apart will certainly seem "alien" to us, at least at first. Such worlds have their own distinct cultures and beliefs and practices; I'm fascinated by their differences, and have also written about other special worlds such as NASCAR, early Appalachian life, country music, nursing homes, mental illness, etc.

There's a lot to learn about serpent-handling believers, and the more I learned, the more I came to respect them for their fervent faith, their stubborn individuality, and their difficult lives. A small offshoot of the American Pentecostal movement, they are real believers in God: in His power to direct their live; in His word the Bible; in His will as they perceive it. They call themselves "sign followers," basing their worship upon the key passage found in Mark 16:17-20, which I quote in the Notes at the end of this book. In my research, I noticed how often they use the term "power;" this concept is especially important to them. God gives them the power to follow His signs. The fact that these followers are often powerless in the world's terms (i.e., poor, isolated, and relatively uneducated) makes this power very meaningful to them, I think; not only does it set them apart, but it also elevates their lives. This may be hard for the rest of us to understand, but it is very real to them. Their God is literal, hands-on, personal–as I have tried to show in this novel. The last thing I wanted to do here was to sensationalize this complex and marginalized religion. I wanted to try to write from deep within it, to find out what it would be like to live such a life–a life I will never live myself. Maybe I'm a pilgrim, too, in my own way, through my writing–but I haven't got Grace's guts, or faith, or those problematic "gifts" she wishes shed never received. It was very hard to "be" her, to make the choices she had to make. But once you get deeply inside a character and into the world of the story, then that character's choices come to seem almost inevitable.

SK: When you were a child, as you have said before, you heard God speak directly to you, much as Grace Shepard heard God speak to her on the dirt road below her mountain cabin.  Would you tell about that moment?  Would it be safe to say that that turning point event in your life formed a germinating seed for the novel, or the character, Florida Grace Shepard, thirty years later?

LS: Maybe so. Certainly I was a very religious child, a deeply weird and very emotional child, an only child with lots of imaginary friends and a very active imagination. I loved Sunday school and Bible camp, and all that. I had my own white Bible with Jesus' words printed in red in the text; I even spoke at youth revivals. And yes, once I was sure I heard God speak to me directly while I was in my tent at camp–I was sure it was God, because He had such a deep voice, and there weren't any men at Camp Alleghany! When I announced this to my counselor, they put me in the infirmary and called my parents, who told me they'd buy me a dog if I'd quit embarrassing them so much. I once wrote a short story about all this, named "Tongues of Fire." I associated a lot of my religious feelings with nature, and I was a real tomboy. We played up in the mountains all the time. It was like the whole world of my childhood was full of God and wonders. But as you get older, that kind of thing scares you, because there are not any boundaries. Then when I went away to St Catherine's School in Richmond for the last two years of high school, all that institutionalized Episcopal ritual just knocked it out of me. I guess it's fair to say I outgrew it; I got interested in other things. It was a relief, actually. I go to the Episcopal Church now, by the way.

SK: One of the funniest–and truest–accounts of adolescent fervor, confusion, (sex) and spiritual seeking I've ever heard was about your being saved more than once at "wild" churches not your own, while you were growing up.   Were you saved more than once?  How can this be?

LS: I was raised in a little church, the Grundy Methodist Church, that was very straight-laced, but I had a friend whose mother spoke in tongues. I was just wild for this family. My own parents were older, and they were so over-protective. I just loved the "letting go" that would happen when I went to church with my friend. My own mother taught home economics–which is the very opposite of speaking in tongues! Later, I'd go to revivals out in the county with other friends, where I was prone to rededicating my life, much to my mother's dismay. Often she could tell immediately, because I'd come home dripping wet from instant immersion in the "little tent behind the big tent." Finally they told me they'd take away the car if I ever did it again, so I quit. Then I went away to school, as I said.

SK: In short stories, novels, and interviews, and elsewhere, you've mused that women of all ages and walks of life must grapple with a number of painful contradictions that arise from conflicts in their own natures and society's sometimes punishing expectations.  These are often imposed on them by the men in their lives-between being the sexy, passionate "Red-headed Emmy" in Oral History, and the docile housewife, "Mrs. Travis Word" in Saving Grace. Or the visionary Sylvaney in Fair and Tender Ladies, or the "crazy" Billie Jean and the ever-practical, sane Ruth Duty in Saving Grace.

LS: You put this very well, Susan. I know it's a theme I keep coming back to. For some reason, this question reminds me of my aunt Millie, who used to call me up on the phone all the time and say, "I swear, I wish you'd write about some well-adjusted people for a change!" But conflict is the very nature of fiction. If you haven't got conflict, you haven't got a story. For many of us, especially women, the gap between what we want or need and what our society expects of us is wide indeed, and we spend out lives trying to negotiate it. Trying to balance work and family, responsibilities and desires, all that stuff. It is not easy.

SK: Florida Grace's name embodies her contradictory nature, the ongoing tensions between "flesh and spirit"–Florida for sultriness, hotness, exotic lushness and dangerous passions, and Grace for the spiritual, evanescent, quality of unearthly "things unseen."  Names seem to serve an allegorical function in this novel Vergil Shepard, of Ruth Duty, Travis Word, even Randy Newhouse.  Do you consider the novel itself an allegory, like Pilgrim's Progress? 

LS: Yes, names are often allegorical here, and I had fun making them up. I definitely view this novel as a kind of unorthodox Pilgrim's Progress. It's Grace's spiritual journey.

SK: Some critics have noted that this novel is far "darker" than other novels in your body of work.  Do you think this is true? 

LS: I don't know–Black Mountain Breakdown is very dark, for instance–Saving Grace may be more akin to it than to some of the others. But there are sad or somber elements in all of them, as in life. I'm not a Pollyanna–I'm a realist, I think. I'm not writing escape fiction. Life is hard and every true story ends badly if you follow it far enough. On the other hand, you can't just sit in a closet and cry about it. You've got to get up, make coffee, go to the store, see a friend, make a joke. Especially you've got to make a joke, look for the irony--which affords perspective. This is why humor is so important to me, and why there's a lot of it in my work, I guess. I have also tried to write about what is ennobling and heroic in the human condition–about love, redemption, grace, and human courage and striving, about our struggle toward the good, about those moments when we really rise toward the light. I guess you could see the whole thing in terms of light and dark–and while of course I prefer the light, like we all do, I can't ignore the dark.

SK: In the first few pages of Saving Grace, Grace speaks eloquently about her need and gratitude for a new-found sense of place:  "The fact is, I felt safe in that house on Scrabble Creek, the safest I ever felt in childhood.  I was raised to believe that the things of this world are not important, and I know it is true, but a house is different.  A house will give you a place on the earth.  If you know where you live, you know who you are.  I loved being the girl who lived in the house by the musical creek." Last question, kind of a summarizing question: If you had to say what one major thing Saving Grace was about-besides religion-what would you like to say? 

LS: I'm glad you picked that quote, Susan, because it seems to me that it's a good place for us to end. Later in the novel, Grace remembers that house "like the little scene in the miraculous Easter egg which Marie Royal had kept on top of the dresser in her bedroom… This scene never, ever changed. Each time I peeped in, it was always the same. Our early years in the wonderful house on Scrabble Creek seemed to me perfect and everlasting in that same way and I loved to think about them, peeping into the egg in my mind whenever I chose, as Daddy and I traveled the South." I think this novel is about the search for home–both a spiritual home and a literal home. It is also about the helplessness of children–something that bothers me profoundly–how children are so often born into difficult or dangerous situations over which they have no control, and how those childhoods can affect them forever.
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Reading Group Guide

"LUCID IN EXECUTION, BREATHTAKING IN SCOPE AND HEART-RENDING IN EFFECT--A REDEMPTIVE WORK OF ART. . . . Lee Smith has done more than write another novel about the South. She has broken through the grotesque surface to the underground spring, the music of Scrabble Creek, and the effect is stunning--a beguiling, gentle prose formed by an honesty so severe we are brought to our knees. . . . This novel has a grand and singular purpose, to clothe the spirit with flesh. In this, Lee Smith succeeds."
--The Washington Post Book World
"A compelling journey into all matters southern and spiritual . . . . Set in North Carolina and Tennessee, we follow young Grace Shepherd from a cabin in the bucolic poverty of Scrabble Creek to independence as a single woman. Stops along the way include seduction by a half-brother, a failed marriage, motherhood, the loss of her son, residence in the aptly-named Creekside apartments in Knoxville and a job waitressing. . . . While Grace's path may be a journey many of us would not choose to undertake, we have to raise a small fist of jubilance to Grace for having survived."
--The Boston Sunday Globe
"Ms. Smith possesses a fine talent for creating narrative voices, whether the ungrammatical eloquence of a hill-country healer or the educated affectations of a Richmond gentleman."
--The New York Times Book Review
"Lee Smith patiently woos us into double vision. . . . As her fans know, [she] has one of the truest ears for the speech in her part of the world."
--Los Angeles Times Book Review

1) What is your first impression of Florida Grace Shepherd at the beginning of Saving Grace? Why is the choice of a first person narrative effectivein establishing the feel of the book? What tone does Grace use in reflecting on her earliest memories? What does she seem to love the most about her time at Scrabble Creek?

2)How does Fannie, Grace's mother, represent the core of the family unit? In which ways does Grace think her mother, not her father, is a "saint"? How did marrying Virgil represent a sharp departure in Fannie's life, and in which ways did it change her?

3)How does Grace's attitude about her mother contrast with her feelings about her father, Virgil? What about him scares her? What view do others have about him?

4)Grace recalls, "Daddy was the master of the house, and Mama was often like one of the kids." How is this demonstrated? How do the Shepherds behave toward one another? How does this interaction affect Grace's later attitude toward relationships?

5)What aspects of his personality make Virgil such a charismatic and successful preacher? Why is his ability to handle serpents particularly impressive to her father's followers? Why do you think Grace refuses to "be anointed"? Why do you think others, like her sister Evelyn, are?

6)"He does everything too much," says Evelyn of her father. What are some examples of this behavior? Do any of his children, including Grace, share this trait? How do they exhibit it?

7)How do Virgil's children adapt to the way of life he forces upon them? Who chafes under his rules and restrictions, and who adapts to them? How does Joe Allen remain loyal to his family but depart from his father's ways? What varied approached do Evelyn, Grace, Billie Jean and Troy Lee take?

8)Why does Grace have a difficult time in school, and in which ways does she set out to reinvent herself in the seventh grade? Why do she and Marie Royal gravitate toward one another? How do the Royals treat Grace? Why doesn't she tell them the truth about her father and her family? What spurs the end of her friendship with Marie; in your opinion, why does this occur?

9)The names of the families in this story–Shepherd, Duty, Word, Royal–are chosen with care. How does Lee Smith infuse these names with significance? Why? What other names–for example, Grace's name and those of her children–are significant?

10)Grace states that she has the "gift of discernment." What does this ability lead her to discover that others might not? How does it come to her aid, and in which ways does it cause difficulties for her? Does she view it as a blessing or a curse?

11)Upon Lamar's arrival at the Shepherd's home, he immediately takes Grace (and Billie Jean) into his confidence. Why doesn't Grace ever confess that he's Virgil's son? What about Lamar so intoxicates Grace? How does he take advantage of that infatuation?

12)Grace's mother begins to waste away and characterizes it as a weak spirit: "God is testing me," she maintains. Why does she feel this way? Do you think that she became involved with Lamar; why or why not? Why, ultimately, would she take her life, especially if it were considered a mortal sin?

13)What is the meaning of Grace's dream the night of Homecoming? How is it a harbinger of the events to unfold? What meanings do "The bite is coming," have, both figuratively and literally?

14)Why does Grace blame Lamar for her mother's death? Why does Lamar place blame at the feet of Virgil? Do you believe that Lamar ever truly found God? How do you reconcile the good in him with the bad?

15)What about Virgil is so intoxicating to his congregants and to new people he meets? What about him would appeal to women? Why does Grace leave with him to find a new congregation, even when she could stay behind with Ruth, Carlton and Billie?

16)How does Grace feel about her siblings? Does she take a more maternal than a sisterly role toward some of them? How? Later in life, why do you think that Grace allows herself to become estranged from her family, even Billie Jean?

17)Why does Virgil take up with Carlean and abandon Grace? How is this behavior antithetical to what he preaches? What is Grace's reaction to his betrayal?

18)How does Grace's perception of her father change over the years? What are the early indications that he struggles between his religious fervor and his bodily weaknesses? How is he different from other religious figures that Grace encounters, most notably Travis Word?

19)How does Grace change after meeting Travis and becoming his wife? How does the structure of his family situation set up obstacles to their relationship? How does his commitment to his congregation put a strain on their marriage? What other challenges does the couple face?

20)By marrying Travis, Grace becomes the wife of a preacher like her mother before her. In which ways are each of them happy being preacher's wives, and how do they bristle under their restrictions? How does Grace take the opposite path from her mother in her journey of relationships?

21)Grace is a happily married woman with two children, yet she feels as though her happiness has been attained "under false pretenses." Why does she feel this way? How does she struggle with religion during that time, and how is this struggle an outgrowth of her past? What spiritual epiphanies do Grace have, both early and later in life?

22)Grace says, "Travis's problem was progress." In which ways is this assessment correct? How, ultimately, does it doom their marriage?

23)How does the death of their stillborn son change the relationship between Grace and Travis, and represent a turning point within the marriage? How is Travis, like her father, the ruler of the household and all who reside within it?

24)After her first meeting with Randy Newhouse at a motel, Grace says, "I thought I had been born again." What does Grace mean by this statement, and how is it ironic? Why does she embark upon an affair with him? After she's caught, what emotions does she display? Do you think that Grace preferred living with Randy to being married to Travis? Why or why not?

25)How is Grace's style of motherhood similar to and different from the parenting philosophies of her parents? How does her devotion to her children change after she meets Randy? Ultimately, in which ways are the girls similar to Grace?

26)After her involvement with Randy, how does Grace become more integrated with the world around her? What good and bad habits does she adopt, and why? Does Randy approve or disapprove of this change in her? At first, why is she so desperate to reconcile with Randy after he leaves her?

27)Grace reinvents herself at different points during her life to fit with her circumstances. To what do you attribute this adaptability? Which aspects of her personality are constant and unchanging?

28)After leaving Randy and driving to visit the Dutys, Grace says, "I felt suddenly, completely alive in a new way, a way that made me realize I had only been walking through my life." What are some examples of Grace's previous ambivalence toward running her own life? What spurs her to take charge of her existence?

29)At the end of the story, Grace departs to her childhood home at Scrabble Creek. What happens there that changes her? Does Grace welcome this? Why?

30)After reading the book, how do you interpret its title, Saving Grace? How does it work on a literal and a figurative level? Do you think that Grace has truly been "saved"–and if so, from what?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 5 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(1)

4 Star

(3)

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2 Star

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 12, 2011

    Great Book

    I really enjoyed this book. It was an interesting read that held my attention as the characters evolved.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2006

    Female roots

    I am an avid reader, especially now that I live where television consists of 4 English Channels, but is was so before moving to this island. My favorite books are by authors like Barbara Kingsolver, Dianna Gabaldon, Sharyn McCrumb, Sue Monk Kid and and recently discovered Denise Giardina ~ all excellent writers. I discovered Lee when I found this particular book in my mother's things after her passing. It enticed me, as I had gone to school with Lee. Like the other female writers, Lee provides a window through which we can see and marvel at our female strengths and social roles. Lee's novels are very earthy and more real because of it. It is wonderful to have novels like her's that are by a woman about being a woman. We so need to bring a focus and appreciation to what it is to be female or what it was for our recent female ancestors to be so. Lee presents the lives of females in mountains of the south east with clarity, sympathy and passion.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2004

    This novel is really 2 books...

    in one. Grace's childhood is worth 5 stars, however Grace's transition into adulthood years and the ending doesn't measure up. In total this is a good book, worth reading for the unforgettable first half (I read it 3 years ago and still remember it very well).

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2002

    good writing and ok story

    I read this book in a matter of hours. It was not necissarily the best story ever, but it was interesting and well written. Grace's story was very tragic and hr life anything but boring. I recommend this book for anyone who loves to read about people's journey for salvation, happiness, and finding themselves. Although i did not consider myself religious while reading this. This will not change your view, but it does help you relaize that if you don't beleive its okay, and your not necissarily going to hell if your not a christain at the beginning of your life.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2001

    Wonderful read

    This was the first novel I read in college. The characters are wonderfully developed and the story will stay with you long after the novel ends. It renewed my love for reading and inspired me to read everything written by Lee Smith, not to mention, become an English major.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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