Synopses & Reviews
When Anthony Doerr's The Shell Collector
was published in 2002, the Los Angeles Times
called his stories "as close to faultless as any writer -- young or vastly experienced -- could wish for." He won the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Discover Prize, Princeton's Hodder Fellowship, and two O. Henrys, and shared the Young Lions Award. Now he has written one of the most beautiful, wise, and compelling first novels of recent times.
David Winkler begins life in Anchorage, Alaska, a quiet boy drawn to the volatility of weather and obsessed with snow. Sometimes he sees things before they happen -- a man carrying a hatbox will be hit by a bus; Winkler will fall in love with a woman in a supermarket. When David dreams that his infant daughter will drown in a flood as he tries to save her, he comes undone. He travels thousands of miles, fleeing family, home, and the future itself, to deny the dream.
On a Caribbean island, destitute, alone, and unsure if his child has survived or his wife can forgive him, David is sheltered by a couple with a daughter of their own. Ultimately it is she who will pull him back into the world, to search for the people he left behind.
Doerr's characters are full of grief and longing, but also replete with grace. His compassion for human frailty is extraordinarily moving. In luminous prose, he writes about the power and beauty of nature and about the tiny miracles that transform our lives. About Grace is heartbreaking, radiant, and astonishingly accomplished.
"A compelling protagonist and a lyrical style grounded in precise observation of the physical world...[a] complex, ambitious first novel....A bold attempt...by a gifted writer whose own future looms promisingly indeed." Kirkus Reviews
"Doerr's characters pale in comparison with the natural world he so powerfully portrays around them." Seattle Times
"About Grace is a taut, gorgeously written odyssey of heartbreak and self-forgiveness. It is indeed about grace what happens when we have found it yet manage to lose it and about so much more: the power of love, the power of grief, and above all the power of dreams." Julia Glass, author of Three Junes
"About Grace is a stunning meditation on chance and pattern, exile and home. Gorgeous, transporting, and deeply, deeply satisfying. Equal parts science and magic (but all of it magical)." Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club
"I loved this wonderful book its strangeness, its obsessiveness, its beautiful sentences." Monica Ali, author of Brick Lane
"Like a gazetteer of a singular existence, About Grace is worldly it takes place in Alaska, Ohio, the Caribbean yet the story and its unusual hero, David Winkler, right away become fixed in a reader's attentions and stay there. About Grace is full of exacting dreams, marvelous incident, tragicomic underpinnings, and a dedication to the fundamental eccentricity of life. With the stories in The Shell Collector, we discovered a writer of immense talent; this novel gives us a sense that Mr. Doerr may become an indispensable one." Howard Norman, author of The Bird Artist and In Fond Remembrance of Me
From an award-winning author whose first collection of stories was "as close to faultless as any writer young or vastly experienced could wish for" (Los Angeles Times) comes an astonishingly beautiful, wise, and heartbreaking novel.
About the Author
Anthony Doerr is the author of The Shell Collector, a collection of stories. He has received two O. Henry Prizes, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the prestigious Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University. The Shell Collector won the 2002 Discover Prize for Fiction and the Ohioana Book Award, and Doerr shared the New York Public Library's 2003 Young Lions Award. He lives with his wife and two sons in Boise, Idaho.
Reading Group Guide
Reader's Group Guide for About Grace
1) The novel is rich with description and symbolism. The symbolism of water is present throughout the story ranging from floods, snowflakes, lakes and oceans to the nature of Winkler's profession. Discuss this symbol in the novel as a whole.
2) Discuss the nature of Sandy and Winkler's relationship. Sandy's point of view is not known to the reader. What do you think motivates her? Why do you think she avoids discussing Winkler's premonitions and sleepwalking?
3) Discuss Winkler's character. What do you think of the choices he made? What were the most important events of his childhood? How did the relationship with his parents along with his earliest premonition shape his character? What is your overall opinion of Winkler?
4) How do the lives of Felix and Soma compare to Winkler's? Why do you think Winkler becomes so attached to the family and, in particular, Naaliyah? What do you think prompts Winkler to return to Ohio after almost two decades on St. Vincent's? Why do you think he stayed so long?
5) While Winkler visits the first Grace Winkler, her son Jed "predicts" certain things about Winkler's journey. Where does Winkler's journey lead him? Was Jed's prediction accurate?
6) Winkler describes his journey at one point as "Another kind of purgatory: a waiting to wake up." What does this mean? How is the notion of purgatory explored throughout Winkler's story?
7) Discuss Naaliyah's character. What is the nature of her relationship with Winkler? What aspects of her personality are revealed during her time at "Camp Nowhere"?
8) What is the significance of the winter spent at "Camp Nowhere"? How does Winkler change during this time? What is the importance of the snowflakes he works to collect?
9) Herman Sheeler figures prominently later in the story. Describe his personality. Why do you think he makes the decision to befriend and help Winkler?
10) Describe the relationship between Grace and Winkler. How does she ultimately come to accept Winkler in her life?
11) The story takes place in a variety of richly described locations. What are some of the most memorable? What aspects of these locations help or hinder Winkler through his turmoil? How do you think these various environments help to tell the story?
12) Do you think Winkler's story reached a resolution? In the final chapter of the book, Winkler dreams. Explain the symbolism of this final dream.