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TheBecks

TheBecks

The Grace That Keeps This World - Tom Bailey If it weren't for my bookclub, I probably would never have even heard of this book. But it was chosen, and so I read it. I finished it in less than a day, so it's compelling enough, I'm just not sure I can say exactly why.

This is just the story of a family, the Hazens, trying to make it season by season, year after year, living close to and off of the land, and with faith. They don't work 9 to 5 jobs so that they can go down to the Super Wal-Mart to pick up the things they need. Instead, Susan grows their vegetables, Gary and their sons hunt or fish for their meat, they barter for goods, etc. That's not to say that they are completely cut off from modernity - Gary does odd jobs for money to buy generators and freezers and such, and surely to pay taxes, though that wasn't mentioned specifically, but they try to live by an ideal of respect for the land and simplicity.

The two boys, Gary David (24) and Kevin (19) were raised to this life... but Kevin is itching to get out of it. He's the first in their family, ever, to go to college, and hates that he feels trapped by obligation to live a life he's no longer sure he wants. He's got a liberal vegetarian girlfriend who doesn't believe in killing animals for any reason, including meat, and she tries to get Kevin to refuse to hunt in the upcoming season.

Gary David is more accepting of the lifestyle they choose to live and responsible, a role he sees as being necessary as the first born, but in his own way he's rebelling too, by choosing a life with someone not North Country born, and in a position of authority over the Hazens - an Environmental Conservation Officer, investigating the Hazens for a reported hunting violation.

The story begins with a prologue from Susan's perspective, recounting the early morning departure of the three men on hunting season opening morning, and leaves us with a sort of aimless sense of foreboding. The remainder of the book takes us through the weeks leading up to that day, and we get to see how the Hazens live and interact with each other and their community.

Gary and Kevin are drifting apart. They both want life on their own terms, but their terms are completely opposite, and so they butt heads and each resent the other for making things difficult and not understanding the other's perspective. Gary's lifestyle is a tradition based on necessity that's no longer truly necessary in this society of modernity. He doesn't understand how life could be fulfilling in any other way. His lifestyle gives him purpose and a sense of accomplishment, as well as an ingrained respect for the nature around him. Kevin just sees it as a ball and chain holding him back from his own chosen path.

To tell the truth, not very much happens in this book. There's not very much conflict, aside from the familial type I mentioned above. There are a lot of beautiful descriptions of the Adirondacks and the community in which the Hazens live, but for much of the book, what I've written above just about covers it. It's definitely a slowly building story, which makes the end and the resolution feel like it was on super fast-forward, unfortunately.

This book's told in quite a lot of different perspective chapters, all in 1st person narrative except for Kevin's chapters, which are in 3rd person. I honestly do not have any idea why Kevin was singled out for a different narrative style. It really doesn't make sense to me. The only thing I can figure is that we're supposed to associate the difference in narrative with the foreboding from the prologue, and it's supposed to generate some suspense and worry about what will happen to Kevin. And I guess, in a way, there was that, because obviously it came to mind, but mainly it just stood out like a sore thumb. And even now, after finishing the story, I still have no idea why the choice was made to change the narrative for Kevin. His perspective could easily have been written to match the others, and in my opinion, would have worked better that way. Third person created a distance from him that I didn't want. I wanted to know him as I knew everyone else in the story. Why should I get to hear the innermost thoughts of a waitress that is only in the story for a few pages here and there, but be kept distant from one of the main, pivotal characters? Frustrating.

Coming back to the ending, I have to admit it was a bit of a let-down. There was all this build-up, all this manufactured suspense, and then the main event is completely skipped, and we only see the outcome, with an explanation of what apparently happened from those who weren't there. And then the epilogue is just a pat, too conveniently perfect resolution, one that doesn't fit what I know of the characters. Honestly, I wish that the epilogue had been left off. I think the ending would have been better that way, even if it was problematic.

One other note about the writing. Some of the phrasing and sentence structure was a bit awkward, and I'd have to read a line 2 or 3 times to get what was being said. It felt like it was trying too hard to be beautiful prose, and it didn't need to try at all. In fact, considering the stark way of life they chose, less would have been more.

Overall though, I can't say that I disliked the book. I read it in less than a day, and something about it kept me turning the pages. I don't know what that was, but it was there.