The Ways of Grace
The Ways of Grace: I have a feeling that readers are going to be sharply divided on this one. For some, it will be the beautiful story of a vulnerable woman who seems to need saving, but who, in fact saves the tortured hero. Others will see it as an emotionally manipulative mix of too-pat clichés and too-convenient plot devices. I cannot predict which side of that coin will come up for you, but my reaction was pretty negative.
Jack Berenger looks out his window one winter evening and sees a desolate woman in a white wedding dress, sitting in the snow and plucking petals off the roses in her bouquet. He goes out to her, and after a moment of seminal mutual recognition, the two strangers share a one night stand. The woman is Grace Colbrook, who just left her fiancé at the altar after discovering him cheating on her. Grace is deeply ashamed of herself for succumbing to a moment of anonymous comfort and passion with Jack, and she slips away before telling him her name. Unfortunately, he’s her new neighbor, so she can’t hope to remain anonymous to him for long.
Dust off your George Clooney fantasies, ladies – Jack is a handsome, emotionally tormented emergency room doctor who plays the field with glamorous models, but who is unwilling to commit to a long-term relationship. His work in the ER is “a constant battle to beat God at his own game” (arrogant, much?) and his every encounter with Grace punctures his emotional reserve in an unwelcome way. This accounts for all those mixed messages he sends her – touching her, kissing her, and making sure she knows that he doesn’t like her at all.
Grace’s luck goes from bad to worse – she gets fired from her job. After a bout of chocolate-and-videos seclusion, Grace attempts to throw a dinner party (not something I would do in these circumstances) that ends in disaster, Jack once again chiming in to make her feel worse. Several times they almost have sex again, but Grace doesn’t want sex without love and Jack doesn’t want love, period. Things are stalemated there until, about halfway through the book, Grace discovers that her previously unknown seven-year-old cousin has been orphaned, and Grace wants to adopt her.
None of this worked for me at all. I found it a meandering string of plot developments that were soon tidily solved in a predictably heartwarming manner. Part of the problem is the author’s heavy-handedness – she makes everything absolutely crystal clear for me, not trusting me to figure out anything for myself. For instance, part of Grace’s job as a toy designer is to watch kids playing with toys, separated from her by a plate glass window. Just in case this chunk of symbolism was lost on me, she is sure to explain to me that Grace dreams of children of her own, but has never actually gotten close to this dream.
Similarly, Grace’s fiancé is not just a jerk – he’s a jerk who has sex with another woman at their wedding, and who later sues Grace for the cost of the ring. Grace does not for one fraction of a second miss this guy or mourn her relationship with him, suggesting to me that she’s an idiot for considering marrying him in the first place. (But of course, he could have provided her with the longed-for children, apparently his only reason for existence – that, and he provided the opportunity for the wedding-dress-in-the-snow scene that opened this novel.)
The seven-year-old cousin arrives, an adorable imp whose initial reserve almost immediately melts into “I want you to be my new mommy and daddy” loveableness. Grace starts a new business. In one day she has orders pouring in, and within about a month Fortune and the New York Times are on the phone, begging for interviews.
Meanwhile, Jack runs hot and cold. He lets Grace and Ruth (the seven-year-old) move in with him while their apartment is being renovated after a fire (that would be yet another one of those too-convenient plot developments I was mentioning), but he cruelly puts Grace down when she tries to thank him by cooking him dinner. He makes suggestive sexual comments on the one hand, and on the other hand deliberately undermines Grace’s confidence as a mother just when she thinks that Ruth might grow to love her. In fact, Jack is a complete wanker right up until the saccharine epilogue, and I really don’t care (as the author expects me to) what traumatic events in his past molded him into the creep he is today.
It’s not as though I’ve never seen contrived plots in romance novels before – I just recommended a book about a bartender who turns out to be a millionaire in disguise. But most romance novels don’t seem to take themselves quite as seriously as The Ways of Grace does. Some will find the book to be a touching tale of the redemptive power of love, but to me it was a shamelessly heavy Moon Pie of melodrama, completely unleavened by campiness. Feel free to judge for yourself.