Rating: 5 stars
In her brilliant new book “Saving Grace,” Jane Green explores many themes. What makes a perfect marriage? Does one ever overcome a horrible childhood? How can someone steal into your life and take away that which you love before you realize it’s happening?
To outward appearances, Grace and Ted Chapman seem the perfect couple. And to one of them, Ted, they are the perfect couple. Grace, though, is very unhappy. Ted is a bully and he loses his temper at the least mishap, showering Grace with emotional abuse. Grace is sensitive to being yelled at as her mother, who suffered from bipolar disorder, constantly yelled and screamed. Grace is unable to handle the yelling and anger her husband directs at her in private.
In public, though, they are impressive. Ted Chapman is a literary wunderkind; his books have been fantastically successful; and Grace is always at his side, the perfect partner, beautiful and elegant. However, when their assistant quits to take care of her mother, both Grace and Ted are bereft.
Grace is not organized and bills go unpaid. Ted loses his temper when there is no ink for the printer and he can’t print off a draft of his new book. When they meet Beth by chance, she seems like the perfect assistant. And when she begins to help both of them, they can’t believe how easy their lives have become. She organizes, cleans, sorts and schedules.
Grace does begin to suspect that something is a bit off with Beth, but soon enough there are bigger signals. A charity luncheon gone wrong. Then Beth, plain and a bit plump at first, loses weight and wears Grace’s cast-off clothing better than Grace did. Was it really an innocent mistake when she also wore a piece of clothing that Grace did not bag up to give away?
Finally, Grace’s life turns into a horror when the thing she fears most seems to be happening. Because her mother had a mental disorder, and basically died from it (unable to handle life and refusing to take medication that might have helped), Grace has always worried that she might suffer from it, also. She was so ashamed about it, she never told Ted or their daughter.
When Beth convinces Ted that Grace is suffering from a mental disorder, Grace must rescue herself — there is no one she can rely on. Beth has successfully poisoned everyone around her with doubts about Grace’s sanity and is, in fact, poised to take over Grace’s life.
Green’s writing is, as always, wonderfully descriptive and evocative. The beginning relies on explanations and background, but very quickly Green’s lively dialogue and fast-moving story draw the reader into Grace’s life.
Readers will yearn for the charming kitchens that are described in the book (and for another kitchen to yearn for, visit Jane’s website and see her own kitchen). Recipes are included at the end of every chapter (many of them beautifully British), so when Grace loves to cook, it’s obvious that this is due to Green’s own passion — a love of cooking and home-making.
“Saving Grace” is about a woman’s struggle to find herself when her marriage falls apart. Is she willing to settle for what had been her life — and upon reflection, a fairly unsatisfactory life at that? Or is she willing to take a chance that life on her own might just be what she needs?
Another thought that this story raises is about emotional abuse. Sometimes, is it the fact that the person being abused allows it to happen that causes the abuses to escalate? Grace’s childhood was such that whenever she was yelled at, she froze, reverting to a child-like inability to deal with anger.
The title, “Saving Grace,” is really a thoughtful one. In the end, the reader will ponder the question of whether in wrecking Grace’s life, did Beth really save it? Does it take a near disaster to make us appreciate what we have? For readers who love stories about realistic people with real faults, this book will ring true. Romance lovers? There’s a good bit for you, also.
It may not come as a surprise to loyal readers of Green’s books that she is also publishing a book of her favorite recipes. Is there anything that Green can’t do? Candle making, cooking, writing, what will come next?
Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, for review purposes.