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Saving Gracie: Book Review March 24, 2013

Posted by Onely in book review, Reviews.
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Jill Teitelman. Saving Gracie. Freestyle Press, Boston MA. 2012.

Marty was married for 17 years seventeen years, so he’s used to thinking in terms of us. When I say I instead of me, he notices. (173)

This is Onely’s first review of a novel. It’s about singleness–the good, the bad, the self-absorbed ex-husbands. How was the book? Well, it got me through two sick insomniac nights.

Ruth was single for a long time and loved it–she traveled the world, met fascinating people (lots of them men, and lots of those she slept with) and overall relished her freedom. She worked on her writing; she thought, Who would want to be married if they could get published instead? (44)

Then suddenly she reached her early forties and her biological clock kicked in. Late. Too late? Not quite, but its ticking was loud enough to impair her judgment when choosing Jake as her husband.

We here at Onely say that people can (and maybe even should) be happy in their single state–which makes us sound a lot like subatomic particles so let’s call it single-at-heart (“it’s how they live their most authentic life,” says Dr. Bella DePaulo).

I was worried that Ruth would become one of those people who feels desperate and worthless if single. And yeah, she does have some of that, but it’s because she has a son–and single mothers don’t always have the option of living single-at-heart, even if that’s what they really are. If she can’t pick up her son at school, is there someone else who can? (Jake doesn’t count–he only does things with his son when he feels like it.) Or does she have to race across town in a panic?

She dates a bit, hoping for that extra support, if not exactly love. And what she is lucky enough to find is not what she expects, but it’s what we need more of in this world–a support system of close-knit neighbors who can share resources and childcare and food and rides to the hospital. Something to penetrate the walls of the apartments and condos and single-family homes. She meets Grace.

Now, their friendship doesn’t magically create one of these idyllic eco-and-alternative-family communities, but it is tiny, shimmering example of what could be. Grace has two sons and a husband and a relentlessly positive attitude. In many ways she functions as a husband for Ruth, providing platonic emotional support–that continues even during Ruth’s short marriage to another man, Marty. They make a tiny community.

When Grace falls ill, her friends and neighbors–remembering how she had always had a smile for them–rally around her, bringing food and running errands. The community grows bigger. Ruth and Marty split up because Ruth doesn’t love him and has less fear of raising her son alone. But Grace, the pebble that started the pearl, is still sick. Her most intimate care falls on Ruth.

The most fascinating part of the novel for me was hearing Ruth’s thoughts as she tries to figure out what to say to her best friend, her sick friend, who was always so upbeat and remains upbeat despite feeling uncomfortable. Ruth is more of, well, let’s just say she’s more like me, a cautious optimist and realistic pessimist. She analyses every interaction with Grace during her sickness–should she tell her friend a joke? When her friend falls into a rare moment of depression, should Ruth try to pump her up, or should she agree that the situation is frustrating and let the moment of despair sit for a minute, because maybe Grace is sick of optimism?

To say more is to give a spoiler. Read it. I liked it. Tell us what you think.

This is Onely’s first review of a novel–but actually, I don’t think it’s a novel. Through the whole thing I was wondering–is this true? Is it? That made the book all the more better.

Point one: It reads like a memoir.

Point two: The media relations letter accompanying the novel (Teitelman’s publicist sent it to us–yay, free book!) says something interesting: Saving Gracie is nearly a memoir, but much more fun. At one point Ruth’s literary agent tells her that the memoir Ruth has written would make a good novel.

Point three: The quote at the beginning of the book says,

Irony of ironies, the more separations we experience, one from another, the more stories we have to tell–and the more pressing the need becomes to tell them. –Suzanne Lipsett, Surviving a Writer’s Life.

Isn’t it possible that Teitelman had a pressing story to tell, but her agent said it would market better as a novel?

My only gripes:

You might not remember, you being so far down on the page at this point (and me assuming you made it this far–if so, thank you) but the book is called Saving Gracie. The title choice is interesting, but somewhat irritating to me. This is probably more a reflection of my type-A personality than the book. = )

–Grace is never once called Gracie in the book.

–The title uses a gerund. (A verb with an -ing.) I shudder at such titles. I did not see Saving Private Ryan because of the gerund. It makes it sound like a cheesy Lifetime special.  I did see Kissing Jessica Stein, a fantastic movie, but I did have to grind my teeth during the initial title splash. I realize that Tietelman may have had no choice in the matter, as the publishers get their dirty little fingers into the draft.  A writer as good as she is would have chosen something better. (Again, Type A!)

But those are small things. Especially on sick insomniac nights.


Photo Credit: Claude Dejoux; Walters Art Museum


1. Stella - April 1, 2013

Ok, despite the appalling title. . .I might request it at my library and see what you think. Am happy to read anything you suggest Onely.
STell axx

Onely - June 6, 2013

Oh, the pressure is on now. = ) Let me know what you think.

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