Grace is dying, slowly. Cancer has returned and she is fading from view while her children watch, in Deborah Forster’s novel The Meaning of Grace. At its heart, this is a story about finding grace – that calmness of spirit and acceptance of life that is difficult to capture and once caught, is visible to everyone. But also a story about finding Grace – single mother of three children, whose methods of bringing the children up have unnecessarily divided the family and only now, as she leaves this world, can the children (now adults) come to terms with who she and they are, and find their own meaning of grace – and Grace.
The story is told mostly from the point of view of Edie, Grace’s eldest daughter. When the family abandoned Grace’s husband, Edie was the only one who really understood. Forever comparing herself with her sister Juliet, and coming out second best, Edie harbours bitterness and seeks small revenges on people who have let her down. But Edie remains for Grace, only ever moving to the next town over. Juliet, the wild one, seems to run roughly through life and never cares what debris she leaves in her wake. As a child, she delights in taunting Edie, and as an adult she simply runs away and leaves Edie to deal with the shattered remains of relationships that Juliet has wilfully destroyed. Third child Ted, only a baby when they left his father, seems to constantly be an afterthought – for his sisters and for his mother, and spends his life seeking some sense of self-worth.
While sad at times, this novel speaks more about the sadness of a family growing up without structure than of Grace’s decline. It is as if, now that her life is over, she realises how much she could have done for her children – but didn’t. And for the children, they finally realise that all the petty resentments about Grace’s lack of attention actually don’t matter as they come back together at her side at the end. This story is touching and sad, and should make you examine your own family relationships in the hopes that you can find the meaning of grace yourself.
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