Charlotte Vale Allen,
Grace Notes
(Mira, 2002)

Charlotte Vale Allen incorporates the Internet, the issue of spousal abuse and the truism that no good deed goes unpunished in Grace Notes.

Grace Loring escapes an abusive husband with her baby daughter Nicola and goes to live with her brother Gus in Vermont. She writes a book about her experience that leads to a career as a successful novelist.

Grace is still living with Gus 22 years later; he has become severely ill with rheumatoid arthritis. The demands of his care have begun to take a toll on her, although she is sincere in her devotion to her brother. She finds it difficult to concentrate on her writing, and she is torn by her longing to cultivate a relationship with Vinnie, a cheerful lively artist, her writing and her sense of responsibility to her brother.

Small wonder that she is quickly intrigued by a cry for help via e-mail from a young woman named Stephanie Blaine. Stephanie asks for help with a problem she has with her insensitive husband, and Grace is quickly sucked into the drama of Stephanie's life. The situation escalates as Grace becomes more involved until it reaches a crisis point, one that imperils Grace and her family.

This plot-driven novel is engrossing, and the pace is tight yet allows the reader to relax a bit during the scenes away from Grace and the e-mail dialogue. That some of the plot falls into place just a tad too neatly can be forgiven in the light of the level of suspense.

Less well-done are the characterizations, which are more "tell" than show. Daughter Nicky is just a bit too self-possessed to be entirely credible and much of the dialogue sounds contrived.

The best-realized character is Alvin "Vinnie" Steinberg, and his dialogues with Grace crackle with energy. I wanted more of it.

All in all, though, this is an entertaining read and supports a worthy aim, to help women who are in abusive relationships, and to that end there is a section of resources at the end. Charlotte Vale Allen knows how to tell a story and how to keep the pages turning, and sometimes, that's what is most important.

- Rambles
written by Donna Scanlon
published 14 December 2002

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