Monday, March 20, 2006

The Grace that keeps this World, a novel by Tom Bailey

By Christina VanGinkel

When I first turned open the cover of 'the Grace that keeps this World' a novel by Tom Bailey, I am not sure what I was expecting, but the story written inside was as much or more than I could have hoped. The story is about the Hazen family, Gary and Grace, and their two sons, Gary David and Kevin, both born to them long after they had given up hope of ever having children, even though they had been high school sweethearts and married young. It is also the story of the people in the town where they live, from the waitress at the local diner, to the scoundrel, Lamey Pierson, who has had it in for the eldest Hazen ever since he turned him in for shooting a Doe out of season years back.

Living in the backwoods of Adirondack country, their family lifestyle exemplifies what many of those of us who live a similar lifestyle is all about. Children sticking close to home to help their parents out, living off the land in more ways than one, including hunting for your family's food through a yearly ritual, the ever popular whitetail deer season. In one part, Gary tells of getting a load of firewood with his Stihl, the same brand of saw that my own husband uses. He tells of laying it up in the truck piece by piece and of his annoyance at his youngest son, Kevin, who has not shown up to help, even though he had promised. Promises on matters such as this are not broken easily, not when it means heat for the house in which you live. When Kevin finally shows up, hours late, and not even in work boots or with a pair of gloves, that Gary is dismayed at his son's attitude is putting it mildly. This instance just serves to exemplify how strong a bond the son and father do have though, by the simple fact that even though he was hours late, and he knew he would be getting reprimanded, he still showed up.

The story delves into the detailed life of this family, and how a new DNR office, a female no less, and young, suddenly changes how an honest man might not feel breaking the law is dishonest, not when it means putting food on the table. This same man was best of friends with the old officer that retired, and would never have thought to break the law in the way he had the year before when she was first on board, because he would not have wanted to put his friend on the spot, had he been caught. He is also best of friends with the local priest, Father Anthony, a devout and good priest, if this tells you anything about his qualities as a man. All of this helps to build a portrait of the type of close know family and community that they lived in. One where everyone knows everyone else's business, and where grudges can be held onto for years, because chances are nobody is leaving anytime soon, so you can happily hold that grudge knowing the person on the receiving end is going to be there even years along.

The writing and layout of this book is different from anything I have ever read before, each chapter is in the words and thoughts of a different character in the book. It starts with a prologue by Susan Hazen, which is the ending of the book, but one that needs to be read between the lines. It is the sort of prologue that makes you want to skip to the end to find out what story really is about. Do yourself a favor though, and do not peak.

It is a riveting story, a strong story, of love, faith, sadness, life, deception, hate, and so much more. It tells of truths, and lies, but mostly it tells of family. Of how family is what can ultimately tear us apart, or keep us close. That family is the grace that keeps this world in one piece, even when pieces of it are torn away in tragedies that no one family or person should ever have to endure.

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