Saving Grace is a novel written by Lee Smith and first published in 1995. It is a fictional journal of a middle aged woman named Grace Shepherd who embarks on a meandering pilgrimage with her father. Florida Grace is the daughter of Rev. Virgil Shepherd, a travelling preacher who handles snakes and performs signs and wonders. His family is forced to follow Reverend Virgil around in his travels in order to support his preaching ministry. Grace believed in Jesus, but hated Him because she was forced to travel all over in many hardships in support of His ministry. The novel talks about the life of Virgil’s family and how they went ahead with their ministry and how it fell apart in the end. Virgil was a dishonest preacher who failed his family leading to the death of his wife and the family falling apart, since he neglected them. However, as the story ends, the protagonist Grace was able to redeem herself despite all the hardships and challenges she faced in her life.
Lee captures the life of her protagonist from her childhood and all her struggles. Grace was a young girl who watched her father perform miracles, signs and wonders and handles snakes. In addition, she watched her father Virgil take poison, yet he never died from the poison. Lee in her book Saving Grace introduces us to a naïve character who is to be the protagonist of the story, since the story revolves around her life. Despite all this drama, Grace tries to live a normal childhood life while in school, but at some point it was not possible because, the more they kept on moving from one place to the other, the more her life became complicated. It was after she was neglected by her parents that her life took a turn around and she makes unwise choices. Lee introduces us to absurd characters from a rural setting to a life with bizarre happenings.
The names used by Smith in the novel are of immense importance, and play a symbolic role to the characters and the book. The preacher’s name is Shepherd, there is the childless couple Carlton and Ruth Duty. The couple gave their only home to the preacher’s family as well as donating the land for the church to be built. The characters in the story are weird in their own way and Lee uses them to build the plot and theme of he story.
The protagonist in the story is Grace Florida, Virgil’s daughter; a character who wrestles with her self, family loyalties, and her sexuality. Florida Grace is depicted as a sympathetic character who struggles with the role of religion in her life. Grace hated Jesus because according to her, “He made them take up travelling in His name, living with strangers and in tents and old school buses" and she was tired of all this travelling from one place to the other (Smith 102). In addition, Grace not only hated Jesus, she also hated her father for the constant prayers, yet they lived in poverty. Grace was a character who rejected the Holy Spirit in the novel because of his father’s deeds; she refused to be saved but always pretended to be saved. When Grace was abandoned in a trailer, she was taken in by Travis Woods, a preacher and his sisters. Even though there was an age difference, Travis 42 and Grace 17 started courting and ended up getting married. Even though she got married to a preacher, Grace never changed her stand about the Holy Spirit or getting saved. In her marriage, Grace felt restricted as a preacher’s wife and she begins an affair with a man who came to paint their house. When her husband discovered the affair, Grace left and married Randy Newhouse who in turn left her for another woman.
Grace’s life in the novel is complicated because of how her father made them travel all over with him in the name of the ministry. She was confused by her father’s hypocrisy in the ministry and this destroyed her life and belief in the Holy Spirit. First, she is seduced and lost her virginity to Lamar her half brother, who later on ran away with all the family had. When Lamar ran away with his father’s entire savings and the car, the father also forced her to go on the road with him making her hate Jesus more and this further complicated her life. Grace is a character who suffered from lack of constraint and guidance and this made her unable to control her emotions and actions. Even though as a character, Grace is depicted as a person who indulged in cheap behaviors, she was a person searching for her true identity and redemption, away from her father’s hypocrisy. Deep in her heart, she knew she was a lost soul that should find redemption in a world of darkness and save her soul.
The book has some painful aspects whereby the true nature of Rev. Virgil Shepherd is revealed. Apart from Grace, there is Rev. Virgil Shepherd, Grace’s father. He is a funny character in the novel that is trusted by the people because he was a preacher of the gospel. He is a Reverend who performs miracles, for instance handling snakes, healing the sick, saving souls, and even at some point raised one person from the dead. Virgil was a travelling evangelist and a father of 11 children yet, he never cared about their wellbeing. However, when he is probed, he is found to be manipulative, dishonest, and philanderer who was only interested in glorifying himself that God. In addition, he left his family and has neglected them and uses an excuse that it was "the will of God" for him to leave them, yet he is juts making it as an excuse (Smith 129). What makes him funny is that, despite all his flaws and sinful nature, Virgil was able to perform all the above miracles. Lee Smith presents a character with a number of flaws who pursues fame and lacks integrity, but still, he is used by God to serve his people and perform miracles. Despite the fact that Rev. Virgil was a constant womanizer and a dishonest man who made his wife commit suicide, he was still a vessel of God and a conduit for grace for the people. Lee presents Virgil as a preacher who was self-centered and an unfaithful man to his family.
Saving Grace by Lee Smith is a breathtaking novel with a compelling journey of a charismatic preacher and his family as he preached the gospel through miracles and handling snakes. Virgil Shepherd lived under the ministry of ``signs and wonders,'' yet his family lived in poverty (Smith 47). A father of 11 is depicted as a dishonest man and a womanizer who used his family for his ministry. Grace, who is the protagonist undergoes a life cycle that torments her and makes her hate the “Jesus" his father preached about. Because of Virgil and his son Lamar’s actions, the family tears apart leading to the death of Grace’s mother who committed suicide after being abused by Lamar. In the end, the preacher backslides while on the road with Grace and he leaves her all alone where she is picked up by another preacher Travis who ends up marrying her despite her young age. After all her struggles in her marriage and her faith, Grace was able to reconcile herself in a Christian themed golf course. Saving Grace is a powerful narration that depicts the struggles of a young girl who wanted to free herself from her father’s rigid traditions and hypocrisy. Through all her struggles, the protagonist was searching for emotional stability.
Lee writes a book about spirituality and how what we believe in shapes us. Rev. Virgil believed in signs and wonders, yet her daughter never believed in the Holy Spirit his father talked about. In the story, through the protagonist’s life, it is clear that, our beliefs shape us into who we are and it also affects the decisions we make. Grace tells the story in a compelling voice of how her life changed while she moved with her family while her father preached. Saving Grace is a book about a family’s spirituality and how a person whom they believed in destroyed their lives and their belief in the Holy Spirit. Rev. Virgil was a preacher who led to the downfall of his family, instead of making it strong as it is expected from any preacher of the gospel.
Smith Lee. Saving Grace. New York: Penguin Books, 2013 Print.