Finding the Grain – Wynn Malone (Bywater Books)

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Have you ever not trusted the ending of a book? Not to say that it wasn’t credible or not in keeping with the characters as drawn, but rather the opposite. You feel you know the characters so well that as the happy ending washes over you, it’s all you can do not to scream at the half-page that ends the book, No! Don’t do it! She’ll fuck you over again!!!” That’s what I experienced with Wynn Malone’s richly detailed and absolutely sumptuous debut novel, Finding the Grain.

Orphaned by a tornado a month before her high school graduation, Augusta “Blue” Riley graduates from high school and plans for college with the help of her aunt. But while at university, Blue meets and falls in love with sorority girl Grace Lancaster. Parental pressures, however, puts the screws to their relationship and Grace bails, leaving Blue adrift. Twenty years on, after hopping from town to town, job to job, and bed to bed, Blue finally rediscovers herself and finds a career that makes her happy–building furniture. She settles down and opens up a shop, not quite over Grace but determined to put the past behind her. Until Grace shows up again. Will they fulfill their destinies? You have to wait to the last page to find out.

Well, this is a romance after all, and one of the unbreakable laws of the genre is the Happy Ever After ending. The joy is in the journey, and there’s much joy to be found here. Malone’s greatest strength is her characters. Both Blue and Grace are wonderfully drawn, absolutely believable, and frustratingly lifelike. I say frustrating because they do exactly what real people do instead of characters in books. And just when you think you have their relationship figured out, Malone throws you another curve. But such curves she throws–soft, low, and deadly.

But as true to life and Blue and Grace are, Malone shows her facility with character in other ways. Preacher, the man who mentors Blue in the art of wood carving, is a patient, wise, and talented older black man who could have easily tipped over into an offensive (or worse yet, bland) caricature. Morgan Freeman’s entire career rests on parts like this. We know just how he’ll react to her being a lesbian, how he encourages her talent, how he waits for her to prove herself, and how he comes to love Blue in his own gruff way. However, Malone injects so much detail and so much humanity into Preacher, he transcends the limitations of that stock character and lifts right off the page. Morgan Freeman should be so lucky.

But we are lucky indeed to have the fruits of Wynn Malone’s labors available. Finding the Grain is a terrific read that’s as warm, comforting, and sturdy as a well-carved piece of wood. And I’ll bet you scream at the last half-page too.

© 2014 Jerry L. Wheeler

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