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Saving Grace – Debbie Babitt

I’m not going to bury the lede, I deeply dislike Saving Grace. There is not one likable character, nor one that exhibits more than one dimension of personality. The story alternates between frustrating and non-sensical and the finale twists are eye-rolling. This is a bad, Z-grade attempt to emulate Gillian Flynn, Tana French, and Paula Hawkins without understanding what makes those three so good.

Mary Grace Dobbs is the newly sworn-in sheriff of her hometown of Redemption, Arkansas in 2019. She got the job after the previous sheriff died and as deputy, she was next in line. Mary Grace is also very religious, sees portents and omens in the weather, and is obsessed with events that occurred when she was 11. In 1995 two school girls went missing and both were connected to Mary Grace. The events in 1995 seem to be repeating themselves in 2019 when another girl goes missing, and past and present collide for Mary Grace and the town.

The story is told through a “Now”, “Then” structure that includes different points of view. The “Then” is told from Mary Grace’s pov as an 11-year-old as if she were writing the book. The “Now” is in the third person, meaning the narrator is outside of Mary Grace but she is the only character to who we are privy to her thoughts.

I do not like stories that hide details from the reader that the characters all know to artificially build suspense. The story details are obfuscated for no reason other than to artificially build suspense in the reader. One major reveal toward the end is already known by everyone in town, and probably outside of town since it was a big news story, but the revelation is presented as a twist to the reader. Red herrings abound and once the big dark secrets start to pour out I was just ready to get the hell out of this town. The ending comes quickly and, while quite dark, is presented in such a way I laughed out loud.

Usually, I do not care about the background of the writer when it comes to their creations. In this case, though, the writer-to-subject-matter connection just feels calculating. In the author bio, Babitt is listed as living in Manhattan, and a copy director. Considering she presents Redemption as a case study in southern stereotypes while offering nothing to counter the lazy approach, I could not help but feel this book was written to fill a niche, not because there was some burning desire to tell a story. If the afterword had contained a copy of the checklist Babitt used to construct the novel I would not have been surprised.

An unreliable narrator with severe personality quirks? CHECK.
A small town where everyone knows everyone with a dark history? CHECK.
Suspicious children, that figure into the narrative? CHECK.
Unbearable secret from the main character’s past that has relevance for the present-day crimes? CHECK.
A devastating conclusion that gives the lead character closure? CHECK AND DONE.

Before Saving Grace I didn’t think the genre could get worse than Ruth Ware’s abysmal The Woman in Cabin 10. I was wrong.

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