About Grace

August 3, 2006

Today I finished reading a novel by Anthony Doerr called About Grace. The main character of the book is a hydrologist and a dreamer. As a child and young man he experiences sharp and tragic dreams that are later realized in his waking hours. The story unfolds around a dream in which he envisions himself carrying the corpse of his baby daughter through a flood.

The dream makes him crazy and despondent. To keep it from coming true, he flees his life. The bulk of the book, then, chronicles his personal struggles and eventual return to his abandoned family. Most of the reviewers on Amazon didn’t like the book. They found it slow, strange, and too interested in minute descriptions of water and hydrological processes. I thought it was luminous. Doerr meditates on what makes a family, he moves the character and the reader through sometimes psychotic behavior, and the stuff on water is, for this reader, fascinating and akin to the information about whaling you discover in Moby Dick, i.e. not extraneous at all but intimately tied up in the story.

Maybe I liked the book, too, because I have lifelike dreams. I went to a continuing education seminar once about leadership or something that pastors are supposed to possess (I forget now). What I remember is one thing the speaker said: In dreams we all experience psychosis. I feel quite certain that this statement is medically and psychologically untrue. But the statement resonates with my experience of dreams. Sometimes I wake up and I am convinced that what I have dreamt is more real than my dark bedroom. All my life I have walked in my sleep. That other reality in my brain can seem so close and so unstoppable.

In the book, the main character’s dreams eventually lead him to a sort of redemption. The redemption he obtains is not easy, but it is very beautiful.


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