Review: The Third Grace, by Deb Elkink

The Third Grace book coverThe Third Grace, by Deb Elkink (Greenbrier Book Company, 2011)

Aglaia Klassen is a thirty-something single woman developing a strong reputation in the world of costume design. Her goal: become a “seasoned urban artist” and find the inner peace that’s eluding her.

Born Mary Grace Klassen, she left that name behind with the family farm and the Mennonite faith of her childhood. ‘Aglaia’ is the name of one of the Three Graces in Greek mythology, and it connects her to a major root of her inner turmoil: François Vivier, the young French exchange student who spent a summer on the farm—and who left with her heart.

An upcoming business trip to Paris, and François’ sensual notes in an old Bible, bring the past into the present and Aglaia develops an obsession with finding Francois again. If she can see him now, perhaps she can put the past to rest and find her true identity.

The main influences in Aglaia’s life are Dr. Lou Chapman, a self-focused feminist who wants to lure her away from her employer to work for Lou’s upscale university, and Ebenezer MacAdam, Aglaia’s gentle boss who’s been quietly grooming her as his replacement.

Aglaia may not know who she is, but everyone else seems to know who they want her to be. Lou pushes, Eb suggests, and François’ notes reveal his own agenda. Author Deb Elkink presents each character as him/herself without commentary and without judgement and lets the reader worry over whether Aglaia will find herself—or be shaped into someone else’s version of reality.

The Third Grace is women’s fiction with the introspection of a literary novel, and the central characters are well-realized and strong of voice.

This is a thinking reader’s novel, although it will satisfy those of us who read mainly for the story. The characters of Lou and François see the Bible as only one of the many valid sources of myth, and Lou is selective in the mythology she uses to prove her own view of the universe.

Eb remembers his own questions along those lines, but he’s found his personal satisfaction in the Bible as truth and he knows it means more than vague philosophy. He’s not threatened, and he’s comfortable to pray for others without trying to argue them into his understanding.

The novel itself does not feel preachy or like a philosophical treatise (although Lou speaks that way because that’s who she is). It’s written by a Christian, perhaps more for wandering women than for those secure in the Kingdom, and portions of the content are more worldly than some Christian readers will find comfortable. Nothing is gratuitous, though, and each character’s thoughts and actions are true to who they are. That’s why the story worked so well for me even when bits were a bit out of my comfort zone.

The Third Grace is the story of one woman’s journey to reconcile with her past and find herself in the present.

You can learn more about Canadian author Deb Elkink at her website, or check out her blog, Rolled Scroll.

[Advance review copy provided by the Greenbrier Book Company in exchange for a fair review.]

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