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The Grace That Keeps This World


The Grace That Keeps This World

Lost Lake (based on Long Lake, a sparsely populated area of the Adirondacks in upstate New York) is a quintessential small town. Everyone knows each other, eats at the same diner, drinks at the same pub, and prays at the same church. It is cold for most of the year and people hunt for survival. Certainly, the town attracts tourists and your occasional celebrity — a redhead named Blaze Farley — but there are no chain stores to be found.

At the center of this novel is the Hazen family. Gary is a logger and hunter who believes in living simply and off the land. He grew up in Lost Lake and is married to Susan, his high school sweetheart. Susan is a dutiful housekeeper and loyal to her husband and two sons, even when she disagrees with them. Gary has brought up his sons the same way he managed to train any dog he had, "with a biscuit in one hand and a switch in the other." Their younger son, Kevin, is a hotheaded college student with a girlfriend who disapproves of hunting. He also has ambitions that extend beyond Lost Lake and spars with his dad as a result. Gary David is older, gentler and more easygoing, but he too fears disappointing his father. Susan and Gary have a loving relationship, but she is clearly no match for her husband's powerful presence. Therefore, she is not able to mediate between Gary and Kevin.

The opening day of buck hunting season is in October and is the biggest day of the year at Lost Lake. It is usually already cold by then, and this year the weather forecast is predicting snow. It is a Hazen tradition for Gary to go hunting with his sons, but this year there's tension. Bailey takes the reader through a chronology of events that occur the week before opening day and the tragic events that change the Hazens' lives forever.

Narrating this story are the Hazens and their neighbors: Officer Josephine Roy, the local Environmental Conservation Officer who is investigating Gary's hunting tags (there is a limit on how many deer you can hunt per year) and is having a secret affair with Gary David; Captain Talbert, Officer Roy's boss; Brad Pfeiffer, a retired ECO and Gary's best friend who reluctantly moved to Florida; Lucy Pfeiffer, Brad's wife who is brazen and crass; Val, the co-owner of Lake View Diner; Anne Marie Burke, a waitress at Lake View who always thought she would settle down with Gary David; Father Anthony, the local priest who is good friends with Gary and has heard his confessions of when he served in Vietnam; Armound Pollon, a fellow logger who only cares about money; and Lamey Pierson, a woodsman who is the town outcast.

All of these viewpoints give a panoramic view of the town and the conflicts of one family. Although some of the characters have predictable traits, they are never stereotypical. But the sheer number of narrators makes the novel seem disjointed, and some key points, like Gary David and Josephine Roy's relationship, are underdeveloped. Other subplots, such as a local independent film about Canadian geese that Gary and Gary David work on, give insight to the Hazens' personalities but are slightly overdeveloped.

Tom Bailey, who cut his teeth as a short story writer, is adept at describing everyday life and routine activities. Whether it's the melee at the diner or the pub, doing household chores, driving by the lake and appreciating the town, or attending the weekly mass, Bailey examines his characters through their actions.

As the tragic events unfold, the central characters come together, united by some keen sense that something is terribly wrong. The end of the novel is a bit rushed, though, and some of the conclusions seem a little convenient. Nonetheless, Bailey has written a unique and engrossing first novel.

Reviewed by Jane Van Ingen on April 11, 2011

The Grace That Keeps This World
by Tom Bailey

  • Publication Date: July 25, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Three Rivers Press
  • ISBN-10: 0307238024
  • ISBN-13: 9780307238023