Friday, March 12, 2010

Review: Tender Graces by Kathryn Magendie

Virginia Kate has gone home to West Virginia after her estranged mother dies. Her brothers don't go with her so she is alone in the house to face her memories of a difficult childhood and an alcoholic mother alternately loving and dismissive. As Virginia Kate goes through the house, avoiding her mother's room, she uncovers mementoes that trigger her reminiscences, both good and bad. Virginia Kate, a child of the West Virginia mountains, is the only daughter of a damaged mother and a Peter Pan father still tied to his mother's apron strings. Mother Katie escaped her own abusive father by marrying but she couldn't escape the emotional scars of her upbringing nor the devastating loss of her own mother in a house fire. Crippled by alcohol and utterly dependent on her beauty to give her life meaning, she has few emotional reserves with which to care for her children. Father Frederick is a philanderer who drinks too much and can't give up the carefree life he so desires despite being married with children. And when his mother summons him home from West Virginia, he leaves his contentious wife and sad children behind. And so life continues on for Virginia Kate and her brothers, difficult and yet somehow rooted in the mountain hollow community. Until her father shows up periodically and takes a child at a time home to Louisiana with him to live, where their existence will start to take on a semblence of normalcy thanks to stepmother Rebekha.

This novel, with its whispering narration and swirl of emotion, is beautifully rendered. Much of the narration here takes place in Virginia Kate's past although her current day self does comment several times throughout the story, as well as framing her childhood story. The characters are fully rounded and while their emotional damage to themselves and each other is great, it feels natural given their lives and what they have endured and tried (often failing) to overcome. Virginia Kate, as the main character, is sympathetic and the reader roots for her to recognize the love she is given freely and the reasons why the love she is so desperate for only comes in ways that make it hard to recognize. The theme of home and family and belonging are rife throughout the novel and they tie everything together, as home and family should, even if they sometimes do it in surprising ways here. There is some sort of closure at the end of the novel but a sequel is coming out this year and if it is as beautiful and poetic as this one, it will be a treat indeed.

Thanks to Deb from BelleBooks for sending me a review copy of this book.

Author Kathryn Magendie lives in North Carolina and this post is a part of the Literary Road Trip for North Carolina.


  1. This sounds like something I would thoroughly enjoy. And I do love lyrical writing. :-)

  2. Oh, I'm so excited to hear there's going to be a sequel. I loved this book! Glad to see you did, too.

    Diary of an Eccentric


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