Author: Fiona McCallum
Saving Grace is the latest release from Fiona McCallum, and I just discovered the first book in a series. This is Fiona McCallum’s fourth book and the second one I have read. It is set in the small rural South Australian town of Wattle Creek, a small farming town of the type where everyone knows everyone else’s business and what they can’t be sure of they are more than happy to make up.
Emily is 28, quite old for a bride in Wattle Creek and desperate to get away from her mothers influence. Her mother is very opinionated and very old fashioned and likes to elevate herself into a position of importance, though it is probably not really warranted. She wants to see her daughter married off, and married well – not to mention married for life.
The story opens with wedding preparations for Emily, a match that is sure to make her mother proud, to John Stratten a farmer from one of the wealthiest families in the district. We don’t see any of the courtship or what sees this couple grow together to the point that they vow to be together forever so we only have Emily’s word to go on that John was marriage material, and she lets us know that up until their marriage he was a gentleman and good to her. I can only wonder if she romanticised him to that point because she was beginning to fall for her mums line that she was going to be left on the shelf and she was more in love with the idea of being married and having a husband than paying proper attention to the man she planned to take the step with.
The wedding was beautiful, one that will be talked about for months. And there ends the fairytale wedding because right from hour one it wasn’t a fairytale marriage. All of Emily’s dreams of happily ever afters are called into question quite quickly as she discovers that all John ever wanted was a housekeeper and sex on tap, and to stop the town tongues wagging I am beginning to think. He wants to show the town that he is the breadwinner and can support his family so he convinces Emily to give up her job before they marry, in her romanticised view of happily ever afters Emily agrees in the belief that she will help John to run the farm. Of course John is a chauvinistic entitled pig and farmwork is not for women. Emily just needs to be at his beck and call, keep his house clean, his bed warm and his stomach full – and not ask questions.
The shine soon wears off and Emily is left wondering what she got herself into, and how she should go about rectifying it. We fast realise that Emily isn’t one to speak up, or stand up for herself. She plods along trying to make the most of it, but never feels comfortable to talk it through with anyone.
Three years in and she loses her much loved Gran, who was also her best friend, and between the grief and an insightful conversation with her cousin she starts thinking about getting out but you can tell she really doesn’t have the backbone for it. It isn’t until she has someone else relying on her, someone else who could be in danger, that she has finally had enough and leaves John. I can understand being able to put up with it and suffer through it and it taking someone helpless to make the decision. The addition of Grace to Emily’s life is the catalyst but I think a lot of it also had to do with Emily’s new friend Barbara, she lent her the strength it took to take that final step.
The story follows Emily on a journey of self-discovery where she starts learning to stand on her own two feet, to ignore the small town antiquated opinions and judgements and to live her own life, all with the loyal and ever so cute and well behaved Grace by her side.
The premise for the story, and the bones of the story, is heart warming and empowering. Everyone wants to see an abused woman (even if he never hit her) break free and learn their worth. To learn to stand up to their mothers disapproval and smile in the face of the small town gossips.
Emily certainly came a long way through the pages of this book. She allowed herself to learn to dream again, to think about where she wanted to get to. She could have gotten so much further if she wasn’t so very negative and willing to wallow in self pity. Fortunately for her, the friendship she had with Barbara was very balancing and Barbara managed to lighten her up and steer her from self-destructive thinking.
She didn’t do herself any favours in her blind naivety in signing the papers John thrust at her – even after receiving sage advice to have it looked over by a professional. She had come to her own conclusion that John was shady, he didn’t care for her and only wanted the convenience of her, she also recognised that something didn’t feel right when he drew up his own papers and wanted them signed immediately. Yet after all that, and reading the papers and thinking they looked doctored, she STILL signed the papers. I understand that she just wanted it all over, I get that I really do. But if you aren’t sure what you are going to do for money, and there are no job prospects around, why would you risk totally ripping yourself off. And once you have done that you made your mess, you can regret it, but you can’t really whine about it constantly because even the best friend is eventually going to want to say I told you so.
There was much that showed great promise about this book, much I wanted to get totally drawn into, but it didn’t resolve anything. Yes, a lot of this is because it’s the beginning of a series which will hopefully mean everything comes together and Emily comes out on top. But I didn’t realise this was a series when I read the book. Hopefully the next book will show more of Emily gaining strength and moving on, and much less of her bitterness and cynicism of the small town she lives in. Yes, the small town mentality can get oppressive but if there weren’t redeeming factors she would have left long before the events of Saving Grace.
I want to know what happens next so I will follow the series through but I won’t rush to be first in line for it. I love the story, I love the idea but I’m not sure about the way the characters were drawn.