Saying Grace (Review)

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Saying Grace
Beth Gutcheon, 1995
320 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
May 2008

I recently got an email asking me to put up a Reading Guide on a work by Beth Gutcheon. Who's this, I wondered?...only to be surprised to find that she was born and raised in the small town I live in now.

I was more surprised to see the extent of Gutcheon's work (7 novels)...and even more surprised that she's not more widely talked about in book club circles. She's an extremely intelligent, gifted writer: perhaps, a writer's writer.

Saying Grace is one of Gutcheon's earlier works, a story about locating and holding on to happiness no matter how precarious its nature. Rue  runs a private school in California. She's smart, well-grounded, and driven by a set vision—for her school and her family and life. That secure, even rigid, vision of how life ought to be will be severely tested during the novel.

The novel opens with a wonderfully written passage.

It was two days before the opening of school when the Spanish teacher dropped dead. Dropped is the right word; she was on her knees in the garden, cleaning out the crocosmia bed, when she felt a sudden lightball of pain in her chest, and then she was herself extinguished. She toppled face-foward into the fragrant California earth...wearing her green-and-yellow gardening gloves.

Touching yet funny, this passage sets the stage for the novel's events. What makes Saying Grace so compelling is Rue's capacity to see life as transcendent—to reach past temporal pain and see human connection with eternity, with what is divine. It is a beautiful evocation.

During Thanksgiving dinner, a discussion ensues regarding what it means to say grace—is it mere decoration; an "incantation, like magic"; or a ritual—with or without meaning? Gutcheon doesn't hand us the answer, but by the end of the book we come to see that saying grace is an acknowledgement of blessedness, a realization that life, no matter its sorrows, is a gift.

I recommend this gorgeous, heartfelt book.

See our Reading Guide for Saying Grace.

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