Tender Graces is about memory and what Tony Morrison called thick love, which is both present and past, both filling Virginia Kate Carey’s today and dissipating like ashes of yesterdays. The protagonist, Virginia Kate returns to her old house in the Smokey Mountains to find it empty and yet pregnant with the past.
Although the setting of Tender Graces is local, its appeal blows the borders of the South to such an extent that even a double foreigner like me (to the place and the local lingo) feels at home in the prose.
I could repeat all the praise that Magendie’s other reviewers have painted, but I feel it deserves much more than a cursive review that does not recreate any of the rich textures and aspects of the novel. I believe this subtle and intelligent, and yet somehow modest novel deserves a thorough literary analysis, which I will try to write in the near future. For now, I’d like to lift up a few aspects which distinguish this book from many literary pieces on the market. The first aspects would be with respect to the market. The novel is so deeply rooted in its subject, its characters, the places, that it is quite purged from marketing devices so omnipresent in much literature. This leads me to the most important feature of the novel: intimacy.
Magendie excels in creating intimacy to such an extent that there is some kind of intimacy even between characters that lack intimacy. Here, I am thinking of a wider, more profound intimacy that permeates every line of the novel, something only masters such as Michael Ondaatje can accomplish. I am not speaking merely about intimacy between characters, between human beings. Intimacy seems to be the ground of everything in this novel, that which holds together a world of humans, animals, things, nature forces, spirits, machines, ashes and the mountain winds. Everything seems to touch something else. There is even a kind of (maybe perverse) intimacy in the scenes of violence and abuse.
There is intimacy between this text and the reader so that the reader feels as if she or he is being made in the act of reading, growing from the same soil as Virginia Kate. This, I believe, has to do with Magendie’s language. It is not fixed, black on white, words but not love, as one of the characters says. To the contrary, it is alive, growing, rooted as VK is rooted in her past and yet growing on. It has a fleshy texture, it climbs like the boy Micah, it curls like hair, it smells like wood, it swirls like ashes being flushed down a toilet, and it burns like a picture of a monster. To use another phrase from the novel, like a woman, even if the text loses a few pounds here and there, they find their way back to the body of the text.
View the official trailer.