The Barnes & Noble Review
Women: combine their incredible yet subtle inner strength with the unique bonds of friendship, and the result is one of the most powerful forces on earth. Author Patricia Gaffney has tapped into that force with a poignant portrait of four remarkable women in her newest novel, The Saving Graces.
For the past 10 years, Rudy, Emma, Isabel, and Lee have shared a bond of affection, support, and understanding that gives each of them the strength to deal with the many ups and downs in their lives. Their connection, born out of a coincidental meeting, is carried on through regular gatherings usually dinners where they talk, share, commiserate, and laugh. Their bond is as mysterious and ephemeral as a ghost, yet each of them knows beyond a doubt that it is there and draws strength from it in times of need.
For Rudy, the beauty in the group, the Saving Graces offers a level of stability she never had as a child. Having come from a highly dysfunctional family, her definition of love is warped, though her capacity to provide it is endless. Under the guidance of a therapist she has been seeing for years, she will come to understand why she is clinging so desperately to her manipulative and devious husband, whose true colors are much darker than anyone suspects. And with the help of the other Graces, she will discover the true meaning of love, finding herself in the process.
Emma, a woman with a fiery personality to match her hair color, is the skeptic of the group. Though she is single, it isn't from a lack of dates. In fact, Emma has made going through mensomethingof a lifestyle. Jaded and bitter from past experiences, she thinks love is an imaginary concept, a fairy tale for those out of touch with reality. Then she meets Mick and finds that love does indeed exist. Except Mick is someone she can't have: He belongs to someone else. Torn between her morals and her heart, Emma will experience heartache unlike any she's ever known. The only thing that gets her through it is the love and support of the Graces.
Lee is generally regarded by all as the most stable one in the group. Her loving marriage to Henry makes it seem as if she has life by the tail. But when she and Henry decide to start a family, the specter of infertility is raised. Before long, Lee's pursuit of motherhood becomes an obsession that threatens her happiness and her marriage. Her main source of support, which will also produce some hard truths, is the Graces.
Isabel is the eldest of the Graces by nearly a decade. Having already survived the emotional and financial blows inflicted by a bitter divorce, she possesses a hard-earned wisdom and an inner strength. But then she comes face to face with her biggest battle yet breast cancer. The Graces must prepare themselves for a crisis that will be the ultimate test of their love and commitment to one another.
Told from the alternating points of view of each of the four characters, The Saving Graces is, in turn, touching, funny, inspirational, and utterly unforgettable. It is intelligent women's fiction, richly rendered and intimately told. Bring your tissues along for the ride.
Read an Excerpt
If half of all marriages end in divorce, how long does the average marriage last? This isn't a math problem; I'd really like to know. I bet it's less than nine and a half years. That's how long the Saving Graces have been going strong, and we're not even getting restless. We still talk, still notice things about each other, weight loss, haircuts, new boots. As far as I know, nobody's looking around for a younger, firmer member.
Truthfully, I never thought we'd last this long. I only joined because Rudy made me. The other three, Lee, Isabel, and -- Joan? Joanne? She didn't last; moved to Detroit with her urologist boyfriend, and we didn't keep up -- the other three didn't strike me at that first meeting as bosom buddy material, frankly. I thought Lee was bossy and Isabel was old -- thirty-nine. Well, I'll be forty next year, enough said there, and Lee is bossy, but she can't help it because she's always right. She really is, and it's a tribute to her exceptional nature that we don't all loathe her for it.
The first meeting went badly. We had it at Isabel's house -- this was back when she was still married to Gary. God, these people are straight, I remember thinking. Straight and rich, that's what really got me -- but I'd just moved into a dank little basement apartment in Georgetown for eleven hundred a month because of the address, so I was a little touchy about money. Lee looked as if she'd just come from spa day at Neiman's. Plus she was single, still in graduate school, and teaching special ed. part-time -- you know how much money there is in that -- and yet she lived around the block from Isabel in snooty Chevy Chase, in ahouse she wasn't renting but owned. Naturally I had it in for these people.
All the way home I explained to Rudy, with much wit and sarcasm and disdain, what was wrong with everybody, and why I couldn't possibly join a women's group whose members owned electric hedge trimmers, wore Ellen Tracy, remembered Eisenhower, dated urologists. "But they're nice," Rudy insisted. Which, of course, missed the point. Lots of people are nice, but you don't want to have dinner with them every other Thursday and exchange secrets.
The other thing was jealousy. I was small enough to mind that Rudy had a good friend other than me. One night a week she and Lee volunteered to teach reading to inner-city illiterates, and had gotten to know each other during the training. I never worried, then or now, that they would become best friends; I mean, if ever there were two people with nothing in common, it's Lee and Rudy. But I was my old insecure self (then and now), and too neurotic to recognize the potential beauty of the Saving Graces even when it was staring me in the face.
We weren't the Saving Graces yet, of course. Even now, we don't go around calling ourselves that in public. It's corny; it sounds like a TV sitcom. Doesn't it? "The Saving Graces," starring Valerie Bertinelli, Susan Dey, and Cybill Shepherd. Notice these are all attractive, smart, funny women who happen to be a little long in the tooth. Anyway, the genesis of our name is a private matter. Not for any particular reason -- it's kind of funny, and it reflects well on us all. But we just don't talk about it. It's personal.
We were driving back from dinner at a restaurant in Great Falls (we eat out when the person whose turn it is doesn't feel like cooking), taking the long way because Rudy missed the Beltway turnoff. We'd been a group for about a year by then; we'd just lost Joan/Joanne but hadn't yet acquired Marsha, transient member number two, so it was just the four of us. I was sitting in the back seat. Rudy turned around to catch my impersonation of the waitress, who we all thought looked and sounded just like Emma Thompson. Isabel yelled, "Look out!" and a split second later we hit the dog.
I can still see the expression on that yellow mutt face in the instant before the fender caught her on the shoulder and flipped her over the hood of Rudy's Saab -- quizzical, curious, just mildly concerned. As if she were thinking, "Well, hm, isn't this interesting."
Everybody screamed. I kept saying, "It's dead, it's dead, it's got to be dead," while Rudy jerked the car off the pavement. To tell the truth, if I'd been driving by myself, I might've kept going: I was sure it was dead, and I didn't want to see. When I was twelve I ran over a frog with my bike, and I'm still not over it. But Rudy killed the engine and everybody piled out, so I had to get out with them.
It wasn't dead. But we didn't know that until Lee suddenly metamorphosed, right there on MacArthur Boulevard, into Cherry Ames, Highway Nurse. Have you ever seen a human being give CPR to a dog? It's funny, but only in retrospect. While it's happening it's sort of thrilling and revolting, like something that's still illegal in most of New England. Rudy whipped off her black cashmere cloak, which I have always coveted, and wrapped it around the dog because Lee said it was going into shock. "A vet, we need a vet," Isabel fretted, but there wasn't a house in sight, no store, no nothing except a darkened church on the other side of the road. Isabel jumped up and waved her arms at a car coming on our side. When it pulled over, she ran up and had a conversation with the driver. I stood there and wrung my hands.
The Saving Graces. Copyright © by Patricia Gaffney. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.