If you get the chance, go and listen to Anthony Doerr read at Boise Art Museum on September 21. You will listen to a writer who is certainly the real deal. His debut collection of short stories, The Shell Collector garnered accolades and awards galore (Barnes & Noble's Discover Prize, The New York Public Library's Young Lions Award, two O. Henry Prizes and the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters). His first novel, About Grace, will be published by Scribner's in October and reviewers are already doling out praise for it--including this reviewer. Doerr lives in Boise when he's not traveling around gathering awards and grants and much of the novel (which includes a couple of chapters set in the North End) was written here.
The protagonist in About Grace, David Winkler, experiences unsettling dreams that come true. He first learns of this ability, when, as a 9-year-old:
... he dreamed a man he had never seen before would be cut in half by a bus three blocks from where he lived. In the dream he watched--paralyzed--as a hatbox flew from the man's arms and landed on its corner, dented. The lid fell; a gray fedora spilled out.
He dreams he will meet his wife in a supermarket. And he does. Soon enough, his concern for the other people in his dreams becomes an overwhelming burden. When he dreams that that his small daughter will drown in a flood, he runs away from his life in the United States, ending up in the Caribbean Grenadine Islands, where much of the novel is set. He spends the next 25 years as a hermetic handyman, befriended by a local, surrogate family. Again, he dreams a tragedy; but rather than flee, he stays and becomes the hero he was unable to be with his own daughter. Emboldened, he decides to find out if his daughter Grace is still alive.
Told in extended flashbacks, the picture Doerr draws of David is that of a man whose gift has, in most ways, ruined his chances of being a complete person. He moves through the physical world with a kind of studied trepidation, knowing that any night his dreams may change the course of his life and the life of others around him. Time becomes almost irrelevant.
Who would believe it? Who would want to think time was anything but unremitting progression, the infinite and indissoluble continuum, a first grader's time line, one thing leading to the next to the next to the next?
For David, his own time line is a sequence of mismatched dreams, and Doerr plays with this in his sequencing of the novel. It is a fine trick, creating layers of suspense. As 34-year-old David escapes his destiny, 59-year-old David heads back to discover it.
In the background of such prophesy and pain is an extraordinarily detailed view of nature. David is a trained hydrologist; snow his medium. Doerr does a great job paralleling human fragility and individuality with the snowflakes David painstakingly studies and catalogs. Doerr's attention to the majesty of nature--at microscopic levels--is reminiscent of some of the writings of other literary scientists like Rick Bass, or even Steinbeck in Log From the Sea of Cortez. Doerr has, at a young age, produced a remarkable novel. If his later works carry with them the kind of intense, lyrical prose that his first two books have, he has a remarkable career before him. The kind that usually only comes true in dreams.
Anthony Doerr reads from his novel About Grace on Tuesday, September 21 at Boise Art Museum, 670 Julia Davis Drive. Hors d'oeuvres and no-host bar begin at 6:30 p.m. Doerr will read at 7 p.m., with a book signing and reception to follow. General admission is $5 and FREE for Boise Art Museum and Log Cabin Literary Center members.