Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Review: Grace, by Vanessa Smith

Published: April 2011

Finally got around to it: May 2011

“You’re suggesting suffering as a choice?” I ask. “That’s your professional opinion? As a doctor?”

“No,” she replies, “acceptance. And I’m not speaking as a doctor, I’m speaking as your mother. It isn’t about choosing suffering, Grace. It’s about choice period. If you sit still in this sadness, I’m scared you’ll never get out of it again. Life is full of a million what if’s. A million unexpected twists and turns. Choosing to walk the path of one—even if it’s wrong—that’s what will get you to the other side.”

“Of what?”

“Expectations, Grace. To experience. It’s the moving that matters. The testing. Trying. That’s what being young is all about. Freedom to choose. It’s your life. It’s up to you what you make of it.”


Vanessa Smith’s debut novella is catharsis through emotional self-destruction. Grace tells the story of Grace Linde, a recent UBC graduate and part-time lost soul. At 22, Grace is struggling to figure out the first step beyond her Bachelor’s degree. As the youngest and least accomplished in a family of upper echelon achievers, the weight of expectation is a constant burden on Grace’s day-to-day existence. Torn between desperately seeking her family’s approval and wanting nothing to do with them, it’s the complimentary smile and unexpected attention of an older man that offers Grace the upheaval she impulsively desires. However, the price of this encounter has the potential to forever change Grace’s life.

Grace flows smoothly from beginning to end. Smith writes in partial staccato, often truncating sentences into nickel and dime thoughts—the kinds that pass through half-formed, more emotional than analytical. This perfunctory approach keeps the story moving at a quick clip, never side-stepping away from what matters most: Grace and the steady thrum of self doubt that keeps her at an ever-growing distance from those who might offer a safe and helping hand.

There’s a great deal of personal weight to every word of Grace. The author isn’t content with telling a story. Smith uses Grace Linde as her avatar-cum-confessional—exploring familial relationships through deeply intimate means. Grace is forever in conflict, wanting to have the opportunity to find herself, and at her own pace, yet subject to the dispersed and ambitious pressures of her family’s success—especially those of her mother and sister.

It’s through these conflicts, open and alluded to, that Grace earns its revelations. The experiences of the story have changed Grace, and it is clear by the end of the novella that she will not allow herself to bottom out—that she has accepted what has happened and has started to understand how it will affect the rest of her life. Most importantly, she accepts that it’s still hers to live.

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