Sufficient Grace by Amy Espeseth
Deep in the heart of rural Wisconsin, two small families eke out a harsh but simple living, dictated to both by the ancient rhythms of the land around them, as well as by their insular, deeply rooted faith. Ruth, her brother Reuben, and her cousins Samuel and the adopted Naomi make up the four focal points of this novel, each of them uneasily coming of age in a community closed off from much of the outside world.
Now a resident of Melbourne, Amy Espeseth was herself raised within a fundamentalist Pentecostal family in rural America. And while it would be altogether too simplistic to make a sweeping statement about autobiography here, it’s undeniable that this time has been fictively brought to the surface with Sufficient Grace. Far from being a crutch, as can sometimes be the case with debuts, Espeseth’s knowledge and eye for detail give the novel a beautiful authenticity and depth that is, from the start, mesmerising and very real.
It is the telling here that is truly to be savoured. Like Daniel Woodrell’s thick-mouthed Ozarks parlance, Espeseth inhabits every inch of her blasted, biblical snow-covered world. Ruth’s voice, while dense, pitches and yaws with the heart-quickening cadence of her holy knowledge, and with the brutal poetry of her own surrounds:
‘The sins are on both sides… For every buck deer that breaks a trail through the corn and eats half an ear off of each stalk, there is one of our neighbours crouching in a stand, high up in a tree, aiming to shoot it dead.’
Equally, it is the two girls that form the dark emotional heart of this novel. Both are caught up in the wrongs and loves of previous generations, and both will bear the brunt of a much more sinister violence within their own family, as well as its devastating denouement. A thankfully unafraid and resonant debut.
Jessica Au is the editor of the Readings Monthly and an occasional bookseller down at Readings St Kilda. Her first novel, Cargo was published in 2011.