Finding Grace

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In her debut novel, No Matter What (1993), Mary Saracino examined the effects of a disintegrating marriage on a ten-year-old girl, “Peanut” Giovani, and her four siblings. Finding Grace continues the story, picking up where No Matter What left off: It is November, 1966. Peanut’s mother has finally taken her three daughters and run off with her lover, Patrick, a Roman Catholic priest and father of the youngest girl. They plan to forge a new life in a new city, but their dreams of happiness are doomed from the beginning. The mother is absorbed by guilt at having left behind her two teenage sons, and it soon becomes obvious that Patrick has no intention of keeping his promise to send for the boys once the family is settled. Soon, Patrick turns cruel and violent, Peanut’s mother sinks into a deep depression, and Peanut is forced to assume full-time adult responsibility. Not only must she care for her sisters and manage much of the housework, but she must also provide emotional support for her mother. The burden is nearly overwhelming, but in the end Peanut will find Grace, a kind and understanding woman who will give her the boost she needs to free herself from her mother’s destructive grasp.

Scripting a narrative from a child’s point-of-view is always a balancing act between oversimplification and over-sophistication, and Finding Grace totters in both directions. On the one hand, key characters lack depth, and events and actions are predictable; on the other hand, Peanut and her six-year-old sister carry on grown-up conversations. But these weaknesses are easily overlooked. Peanut’s story is riveting and the novel reveals in compelling ways the damage adult failing can have on children.