The Mystery of Grace by Charles de Lint is the story of a young woman (Grace) who dies unexpectedly but, instead of Heaven or Nirvana or nothingness, what she gets is a rebirth in her apartment – but in a world inhabited only by all those who died in the same small area of town in the last 50 years. A twist on a familiar theme, it is the story of star-crossed lovers with a serious impediment – one of them is dead.
I have already sung the praises of de Lint once or twice in this blog, so I won’t tell you again how much I love his work and how I feel like some of his books have literally changed my life and my way of thinking. Someplace To Be Flying and Forests of the Heart are books I will have to bequeath to someone, because they will be in my book collection until the day I die (hmm, maybe I’ll have them cremated with me). Unfortunately, The Mystery of Grace fell short of the incredibly high bar de Lint has written for himself.
I am most certainly not saying that TMoG is a bad book. It is not. It is a good book. Grace is a girl who loves hot rods (as I do) and actually works on them (as I do not), and the guy she falls for is someone I would probably fall for. But as I read the book, I felt like I’d read it before – not the details, but the general storyline (TMoG is brand new). At first, I chalked it up to having read and re-read the 50 stories or whatever that de Lint has written in his decades of writing (he has lots of short story collections in addition to a dozen or more novels). Then I picked up Promises to Keep this week – another de Lint I thought I hadn’t read before. Well, I had read it before – it’s really more of a novella, published as a young adult fiction novel. It is the story of Jilly (a recurring character in many of de Lint’s Newford books) and how she is offered the perfect life by a friend of hers – a life in a world where some of the dead go after they pass on. The bones of this world – which Jilly ultimately rejects – are the same as the afterworld in TMoG. That’s why it all seemed so familiar.
It’s clear that the idea showed up in Promises to Keep, and de Lint developed it much more fully (and more interestingly) in TMoG. but it still bugs me. It smacks of a lack of ideas – a need to fulfill a contract and recycling stories to do it. And I expect a lot more from my uber-favorite author – probably unfairly.
And while I’m venting, the gear-head stuff in the book does not ring quite true. It reads like something very well-researched, but not as believable as almost everything else in his work. I am a gear-head, I love it, and it felt just a little bit ‘tacked on’ as something cool rather than something real and true to a person. And in general, the book felt thin – like the world and the characters in general lacked a certain depth. I’m sure this is partly due to my being spoiled by the Newford stories, where I have dozens of stories worth of history that inform even the short stories. But this one reads more like something he wrote in the early years – when he wrote short stories. His writing (like most great writers) has improved over the years, so this one would have been a fabulous short story, but is instead a not-so-fabulous novel. It pains me to say anything negative about my boy, but I won’t pretend that I loved TMoG. If someone else had written it, I would have said it was a de Lint rip-off that did not quite live up to the master. That the master himself wrote it does not make it masterful.