A Subtle Grace is the latest masterpiece by bestselling author/editor Ellen Gable. It is the sequel to the award-winning novel In Name Only. I’ve really been looking forward to this sequel because I was so thoroughly impressed by the first book, which vividly depicts the lives of the O’Donovan family in the late eighteen hundreds. I love when I get so drawn into a book that I can picture myself in the scenes and have a real sense of the thoughts and emotions surging through the characters. She blends dialogue and descriptive prose to create full-bodied personalities. It is easy to identify and relate to each person’s unique charms, quirks, and flaws.
There are scenes in certain books, plays, and movies that stick with us because of how disturbing or upsetting they are. Maybe it’s an image from one of the ghost stories popular at sleepovers or an urban legend that hits a little too close to home. We can all think back to a particular scenario we’ve envisioned and relive the emotions as if it was happening to us in the present. Adrenalin starts pumping. Our heart beats faster. Our palms sweat. Our muscles tense. Every sound is amplified and ominous. We are sure of our safety, nevermore.
In each of these novels, there are a number of scenes I found myself reacting to on a visceral level because of how powerfully crafted and carefully portrayed they are. The suspense made me not want to put the books down even when the turn of events caused me to cringe. Gable manages to treat a number of the scenarios I would definitely include in my top five biggest fears of all time in ways that compel me to continue onward through the horror and devastation to discover what’s waiting on the other side. I can’t exactly say that I enjoy feeling awful, but to me it’s a mark of good storytelling if you can get me to empathize with the characters so deeply that a real sense of sorrow rises within me when they are suffering and a genuine joy comes over me when they have triumphed over it.
This is one of my favorite contemporary works of Catholic fiction. (For purposes of classification, I'm defining contemporary as works written between the 1980 and today) . The storytelling is masterful, the characters fascinating, and the writing is of high literary quality. People are imperfect—past, present, and future—but each is given the opportunity to grow, change, learn, and be redeemed. In this story it’s shown how the greatest mistake of our lives can be turned into one of the most amazing blessings and even be a source of hope for others. Life’s messy. People are complex. We’ve all got some skeletons in our closets, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t also fit some trophies and triumphs in there as well.