Grace, the latest from novelist Calvin Baker, is the story of one man’s quest for love and meaning in a world he has found wanting. Harper Roland has given up his job as a front line journalist, and come back to his home in the States with an itch he really doesn’t know how to scratch. He has been seeing a woman, a high powered doctor, but their relation has only been physical and she shows no interest in taking it to another level. This sets him off on an intercontinental search for real love, a search which takes him from New York to Paris to Brazil and South America to Africa. There are candidates inappropriate—a beautiful young woman he picks up at a party; an emotionally wise prostitute in a Brazilian brothel. There are candidates appropriate—a French artist with a burning passion, a lawyer who has left the rat race for a more meaningful life.
Through it all Harper does a lot of navel gazing about the emptiness of his existence in way only someone without all of the everyday cares that take up most lives has time for. Every once in a while he mentions money, but it never seems to be a major concern. An apartment in New York, trips to Paris and Brazil, a lengthy rental of a house on an exotic island, an African safari—this is not a man who seems worried about paying the electric bill. It is difficult to take him seriously at times. Clearly material security doesn’t always bring happiness, but neither does it evoke sympathy. It certainly didn’t in this reader.
Often it feels as if Baker is going out of his way to create an unsympathetic central character. He protests about a night out at a Brazilian brothel but ends up with a prostitute. At times he is unwilling to help people in need. He jumps to conclusions and is often wrong in his judgments. He tends to stereotype people, and seems to feel superior to most everyone. Now unsympathetic characters have every right to seek for meaning in their lives. And if this was the point Baker was trying to make in the novel, there would be nothing to complain about. But somehow I’m never quite sure if I was reading something into his character that had nothing to do with the author’s intention.
The novel ends in all out melodrama with an unbelievable Hollywood escape from African rebels that seems to belong in another novel, as Harper turns into an action hero. There is some interesting analysis of colonialism and what makes African rebels tick, but it really doesn’t get enough emphasis. Indeed the rebels are never really developed as characters. But, after all, Grace is Harper’s book. Other characters are there, but they are merely supporting characters and extras in the Harper Roland story. If Baker can get you to buy into that story, Grace will be a satisfying read. Unfortunately, that was one purchase I couldn’t quite make.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=144058575X]