3 reviews

The Grace That Keeps This World : A Novel
by Tom Bailey

Published: 2005-10-11
Hardcover : 288 pages
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Recommended to book clubs by 2 of 3 members
From first-time novelist Tom Bailey comes a gripping story in the tradition of Plainsong about a family living in New York’s Adirondack wilderness and the tragic events that befall them one hunting season.

On the edge of the Adirondack wilderness, survival is a way of life for the ...

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From first-time novelist Tom Bailey comes a gripping story in the tradition of Plainsong about a family living in New York’s Adirondack wilderness and the tragic events that befall them one hunting season.

On the edge of the Adirondack wilderness, survival is a way of life for the Hazen family. Gary Hazen is a respected forester and hunter, known for his good instincts and meticulous planning. He and his wife, Susan, have raised their sons to appreciate the satisfaction of this difficult but honest life. In spite of this, the boys, men now, are slipping away. His older son, Gary David, is secretly dating a woman of whom his father would not approve even as Kevin, the younger boy, struggles against the limits of his family’s hardscrabble lifestyle, wanting something more. On the first day of hunting season, the Hazen men enter the woods, unaware that the trip they are embarking on will force them to come to terms with their differences and will forever change their lives. In The Grace That Keeps This World, Tom Bailey gives us an emotional page-turner, infused with a deep sense of foreboding. Alternately narrated by the Hazens and their neighbors in Lost Lake, the story perfectly captures the enduring rhythms of life in a rural town.

TOM BAILEY is the author of Crow Man, a critically acclaimed collection of short stories. He has received a Pushcart Prize, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for fiction, and a Newhouse Award from the John Gardener Foundation. He teaches at Susquehanna Uni-versity in Pennsylvania.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.


And as I lay there a single goose honked fast over the house, racing low to catch up with the trailing V, so close by the window it sounded as though he were fat-flying right through my room. Just as that honking passed and faded, I heard the missing, miserable tick of Kevin’s rusted-out Dodge pulling to get up to us. His beamed headlights flashed bright across the curtains as he turned into the drive, bumped suddenly up, shooting high, and dove sharply, then came steadily on, shining straight down the drive, the beams flickering light between the line of pines. My younger son parked his truck behind his father’s and the projected picture that had been playing out before my eyes on the bright ceiling blanked when the engine coughed and died. The truck door popped and Kevin shoved out and stepped down, crunching snow. I heard the jingle of dropped keys. He grunted over, and I heard him sniff, the jingle again as he picked up the keys and pocketed them. He slammed the truck’s door. Then my younger son Kevin turned and with a last deep breath took that first resolute step toward the porch. Purpose stomped his path across the snowy drive. His march seemed to say he’d had it, enough, he’d tell his father today, now, he had something to say. But, two manstrides from the mudroom door, he slowed. I caught the hesitation in the next half-step he took onto the porch, and then whatever momentum he’d worked up went suddenly out of him—he hadn’t even made the second stair. He stood before the door, the lathered sweat he was in to get here and have it out with his father gone freezing on him, stopping him cold. He stood there in that icy moonbright not wanting to go in, and I imagine something else, too. Afterward, I would find out. Now I know for sure. He’d held the news hot in him; he had given his sworn word to her. It wasn’t just that he and his father had had a falling out the weekend before about his not wanting to go on this hunt or the weekend before that because he’d been late again helping his father and his older brother get in the last of the wood. Kevin stood there on the porch. He took another deep breath. He turned the handle and…. I did not hear one word from Kevin that morning, the sounds spoken in the kitchen muffled, whispered. He never said it in my hearing what I know now he had to say. I only caught the _____________ as Gary stopped to look at him—glanced back no doubt expecting tall, dark, curly headed Gary David with that armload of wood for the stove—and saw our youngest, blond Kevin standing sheepishly in the kitchen alone. The glowing dial on the clock beside me read 2:33, already three minutes past their usual time to have left in order to get set in their stands before dawn. On the mud porch, my husband and two sons bumped and stomped into their boots, scuffled into their coats, grabbed up their guns, and eased out the door. I lay in bed with the quilt pulled up to my chin and I listened as they crunched across the crust of snow to Gary’s truck. The engine roared, and they drove off—and that was the last I heard from the three of them all together ever again.... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

Questions for Discussion from the Publisher:

1. Why are the chapters about Kevin written in the third person when all the other characters’ sections are written in the first person? Does this stylistic choice affect your attitude toward Kevin?

2. What role does Roman Catholicism play in the novel? What aspects of Gary’s personality does the reader glean from Father Anthony’s perspective via the confessional? The evening of the Hunters’ Mass, Gary notices that the North Star seems to point toward his home, a reference to the biblical story of a star that led worshippers to the site of Christ’s nativity. Does the author suggest here that Gary has a messiah complex? What does Father Anthony identify as Gary’s great sin?

3. Why does the author include the diametrically opposed points of view of Lucy and Brad Pfeiffer, a couple who has transplanted from Lost Lake to Florida? What purpose does Brad Pfeiffer’s depression serve in the narrative?

4. A great deal of the novel’s early tension is built around Officer Roy’s observations of Lamey Pierson–“It was his eyes that held you, though, and cautioned that he was neither simply lost nor merely crazy, but actually might be dangerous as well. Yellow as a coyote’s, they had that same sort of clever, plotting glow” (page 33). Is Lamey a stereotypical villain, positioned to keep the reader uneasy, or does his character function on a more complex level? Why does he laugh hysterically at the scene of the Hazens’ carnage in the woods?

5. The novel opens with Susan, closes with Gary, and in between focuses largely on Kevin, Gary David, and Officer Roy. Whose story is this?

6. The novel takes on a surprisingly lighthearted tone with the advent of the absurd faux-goose episode. What is the significance of this narrative twist? What does it tell us about Gary? What attitude toward Hollywood does the author convey through the characters/caricatures of Pierre Pardoe and Blaze Farley? How do the citizens of Lost Lake respond to them?

7. Why does part three open with Brad Pfeiffer’s account of a harrowing snowmobile accident? What irony haunts Brad’s memory of the event? Is it meaningful that the accident involves strangers to the town rather than residents of Lost Lake?

8. The novel takes its title from the Wendell Berry poem “A Warning to My Readers.” Which character in the story might speak this poem? What emotion does the poem evoke?

9. What is the author’s attitude toward Gary Hazen’s frontier dream of a wholly self-sufficient homestead?

10. In the prologue, Susan identifies a vital difference between the sexes: “It is not that men don’t love, but that their love contains within it a concern for and consideration of themselves–what they love and so think we’ll care for–and not the sacrifice which is an imagining of others that is a woman’s love, a motherly love born out of our bearing others” (page 5). Examining the relationships between Gary and Susan, Brad and Lucy, Officer Roy and Gary David, and Jeanie and Kevin, to what extent is this novel a study in the different ways that men and women love? In which of these relationship does Susan’s theory ring true?

11. Susan recognizes Gary’s extremism, but seems to consider it a mildly amusing character trait in her beloved: “I’m not sure that I would have loved him so if he hadn’t been so resolute, sure in the rightness, even the self-righteousness of his life . . . another sort of man would not have felt he’d failed utterly as a father because one of his two sons had said he was not going to accompany him on a hunt. But then again that man would not have been Gary Hazen” (page 131). Given that Susan is painted as a perceptive, intelligent woman, what do you make of her collusion with Gary’s unreasonable rigidity?

12. What symbolic meaning does the shell bag have for Kevin, for Gary David, and for Gary? What role does it play in the family’s demise?

13. In the prologue, Susan watches her family leave and comments, “that was the last I heard from the three of them all together ever again” (page 7). How would the novel read differently if the coming tragedy was not revealed in the beginning? What devices does the author use to create suspense around the finale?

14. How does Gary’s Vietnam experience play into his sense of self?

15. Armound Pollon and his team of clear-cutters represent the kind of newfangled forestry that Gary finds shortsighted and greedy. How does this subplot involving the Upper Lake Frenchmen contribute to the story? What larger themes does it frame?

16. Why does Gary describe the death of each goose in such lurid detail?

17. Kevin’s oration of a passage from Homer’s The Odyssey creates in him “a sudden soaring elation,” the abrupt conviction that he wants to teach, and the liberating sensation that, for the first time in his life, “Everything seemed to make perfect sense” (page 148). Later, the piece of paper containing this passage allows Kevin to build the fire that keeps him and Gary alive in the woods. Why is this ironic? What is the significance of the specific passage he has chosen? Can The Grace That Keeps This World be read as a modern-day Odyssey, with Kevin as Odysseus? Does he make his way home at the end?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "Thought provoking look at the secrets families keep from each other"by Vanessa W. (see profile) 10/13/06

It took me a while to get to this book after Book Movement sent me the Advance Reader edition, but I rather enjoyed it. Very well written. Gary Hazen is an ass. Even though (no spoiler) negative events... (read more)

  "Like Tom as a person...did not like this book"by Debra T. (see profile) 08/01/11

Tom was at our book club for this and I was told to, "be nice," by the other club members. I could not hide my dislike of this book. Just felt like it was a long book that could have been written in a... (read more)

  "Unconvinced"by Don S. (see profile) 12/15/10

The ending seemed unrealistic to me. That being said, I enjoyed the book as a whole and it had some very good discussion topics.

  "Conflicted"by Nicole S. (see profile) 11/22/10

While I enjoyed it from a distance, it was hard to believe at the core.

  "Grace That Keeps This World"by Wanda N. (see profile) 07/24/10

Our book club found a lot to talk about in this book. We had differing viewpoints on whether the characters acted "in character" or not and good discussion on why or why not.

  "Car Crash novel keeps one gripped"by susan j. (see profile) 02/02/07

I read this just after 'The Bright forever' and it was similar in that right at the start it was clear one of the Hazen men was doomed and it was the long trawl through to find out which one... (read more)

  "Story about the Hazen Family and their struggle to survive in the frigid Adirondacks"by Debra T. (see profile) 12/26/06

On October 12, 2006 , we had the pleasure of having a special guest at our book club meeting, author Tom Bailey. It was fascinating to hear how he wrote this book and each of the character'... (read more)

  "wonderful character development, interesting setting & story"by Cynthia P. (see profile) 03/19/06

thought-provoking; held my interest; presents numerous areas for discussion; good discussion at book club.
thank you for this book!

  "Better than I though it would be. Sparked a great discussion ."by Michelle S. (see profile) 03/16/06

  "great book for book club reading"by Johnna T. (see profile) 03/08/06

There was a lot to discuss in this book. We appreciated the questions published by Book Movement. Interview with the author on www.npr.org.

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