Friday, February 5, 2010

State of Grace

On the cover of The Mystery of Grace by Charles de Lint is a quote from Alice Hoffman: "No one does it better."

I am inclined to agree.

The setting this time around is the desert southwest rather than the now familiar Newford, so the flow isn't quite as smooth, but the story is still beautifully told, and the characters still draw you into their world and their lives.

I love the ease with which de Lint's characters come to accept the extraordinary.  Sometimes it takes a while, but I find myself starting to believe as the characters do, and before I know it, everything makes perfect sense.

After all, the basic premise in all of his stories is the possibility (or even likelihood) that the world is simply not only as it appears, not only what you can see with your own eyes and what you have known and believed all of your life -- there is more to the mystery that is life.  All you have to do is open your mind to the wonder of possibility.

Grace is adrift in her life after the death of her grandfather.  He was the only family member to who she was really close, and he was the one to introduce her to the love of her life -- cars.  Specifically vintage cars in need of restoration.  She is still trying to regain focus and motivation when her own life is cut tragically short by a junkie trying to rob her neighborhood corner store.

Because she lived in an apartment building called the Alverson Arms, she doesn't end up in Heaven or Hell but rather an in between sort of Limbo centered around the apartment building and stretching outward for several blocks.

Everyone who is there died somewhere within the Alverson Arms' sphere of influence.

Once she accepts where she is and how she got there, Grace sets out to unravel the mystery of why with the help of some of her new neighbors and John, a man she meets on Halloween, one of the two nights of the year she is able to spend with the living.

John feels such a strong connection with Grace during the few hours they get to spend together before she disappears back to the alternate Alverson Arms world that he is determined to find her and see her again, and even finding out that she died a few weeks before they even met doesn't stop him.

Instead he learns as much as he can about her, what happened to her and what the possibilities might be so that on May Eve (Beltane) when she reappears, he is outside the corner store where she died, waiting for her with her restored '57 Ford Fairlane.

At that point, I was deeply involved enough in the story and the characters that when he was waiting for her with the car, I pretty much clapped my hands and cheered.

That's the magic and power of the storytelling of Charles de Lint.  He brings you close enough to his characters that you can share their joy and their heartbreak, their hope and their confusion, and when you reach the end of the story, you wish them well on the next stage of their journey.

Of course, happily ever after isn't a realistic path for these two to follow, but you will have to read the book yourself to find out where their paths do lead.

The Mystery of Grace is a bewitching combination of old magic, new magic, tradition and good old fashioned faith, reminding the reader that, no matter what it is, you should have something you can believe in unconditionally.

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