Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Grace Hammer by Sara Stockbridge

Grace Hammer by Sara Stockbridge

2009 W.W. Norton & Company

Usually I know in the first thirty pages if a book is worth reading. I always finish a book that I have started even if it physically pains me. That said, GRACE HAMMER and I got off to a rough start. The prose is more lyrical than readable, the story goes in circles and throws in background information at the most distracting times. However, the characters are interesting, the pace is fast and the final resolutions are not easy to figure out. In the end I liked this book when I dreaded having to finish what I had started.

GRACE HAMMER is the story of Grace Hammer, her four children and their lives in the underbelly of London. Grace is a professional thief and is training her three sons to be thieves as well. However, the victim of a theft she committed long before she had a family has shown up in her part of London bent on revenge.
One of the things that grew on me as the book progressed is the authors style. She has a way of talking in circles and describing things so that they are not easily recognizable. Her writing is riddle-like and in the first chapters, discouraging. I had to read the first three chapters twice to make sure that I was keeping the characters and the burgeoning plot straight. There were far too many minor characters that popped in and out of the story at will. This book would have been better served by keeping the minor characters low (just a suggestion).
The best thing about the book is how true the characters stayed to themselves. There was no bogus change of heart moment where all the prostitutes found nice housemaid jobs or Grace gave up hers. The bad guys were the bad guys, most of the rest of the characters were just trying to live their lives. Also, I really appreciated that this is not a 'feel good' book. The situations are what they were. Life is bleak and hardscrabble, with people self-medicating just to make it to the next day. There are prostitutes, drug addicts, loan sharks and murderers but there are also good-hearted people, caring foster parents and kind neighbors.
I would recommend this book with reservations. It is not the type of book to read if you want your characters to live fairytale lives, that just isn't going to happen. Also, this book does have a slow start so there will be moments of perseverance. Otherwise, GRACE HAMMER was an enjoyable read.

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