Wednesday, April 8, 2009

What I'm Reading: "Mystery of Grace" by Charles de Lint

I first picked up one of Charles de Lint's books when I was in my early 20s, at a used book sale. When I read it, I immediately realized two things: first, that he was combining traditional folklore and modern urban settings in a way that I thought I was clever and original for doing in my own short stories and comics and two, he understood the symbolism and significances of it all a lot better than I did.

I've since become a diehard fan, so when I saw Mystery of Grace on the shelf at the bookstore, I grabbed it right away.

While many of his previous novels were set in the fictional North American city of Newford, Mystery of Grace is set somewhere in Southern California. And, unlike previous efforts which drew largely on Celtic folk for musical inspiration, its soundtrack is mostly rockabilly and surf rock.

The heroine of the story, Atlagracia Quintero, is a Mexican-American hot rod mechanic. She's considered something of a tomboy who has grease-stained hands and plenty of tattoos.
Without spoiling the details, she ends up falling in love, experiencing some very weird things, as well as some terrible tragedy, and exploring the mysteries of life, death and what's in between the two.

Like in his other work, de Lint draws on the folklore of several different cultures, including the Spanish Catholic traditions of the area and Native American beliefs, and asks the question "what if they're all right?"

De Lint understands the symbolism of folk tales and fantasy, and the importance of stories to our self-identity. The paranormal aspects of the book are, as well as being interesting in their own right, a metaphor for our own inner journeys. Themes of love, loss, childhood tragedy, family and a chance at redemption for the lost are common in this book, like his other stories.

The book had its flaws, especially in the last third. At some point it felt a little rushed and a few confrontations seemed to fall into a bit of a cliche, but overall it was a very good read. The ending, and the overall mood, is somewhat bittersweet, and sometimes feels much like Peter S. Beagle's A Fine and Private Place, with which it has some parallels.

If you're a de Lint fan, you'll love it. If you're not, I'd definitely recommend it, but I would also take this opportunity to put in a plug for his short story collections, such as Dreams Underfoot and Moonlight and Vines, which showcase what are in my opinion some of his best efforts.

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