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Sometimes it takes a lifetime to stop struggling against the grain.The title, Finding the Grain, suggests searching for something that’s right, even if it involves floundering off course as part of the search, rather than the negative “against the grain.” So when Augusta “Blue” Riley’s life takes what seems like one wrong turn after another, following the tragic death of her parents in a tornado, she begins a journey that takes her on paths that seem to lead her astray again and again. But she might not be off course at all; she might just be looking for the grain of her life. If she finds it, she might be able to slip into the flow of it and ride along effortlessly; however, in Blue’s case, finding that grain may take a while.
Blue believes she’s found the grain early on. She meets the love of her life as she starts college in North Carolina. However, it takes two people who believe in that love to make it work and if Grace Lancaster allows family obligations and expectations to make her decisions for her instead of following her heart, both women could lose the grain entirely.
Leaving college after a traumatic experience, Blue spends the next phase of her life wandering, physically and metaphorically, trying to remove splinters from her heart and straining to catch a glimpse of a smoother direction. She’s mostly unsuccessful at it for quite a while—until she takes a job on a whim. She settles in the farmland of the Mississippi Delta. It has a familiarity to it since she grew up on a farm. In the course of caring for an elderly, ailing woman and helping the woman’s husband tend his farm, Blue soon realizes that these two people have more to teach her about her life than she could ever imagine. The relationship that she develops with Mary teaches her about love and life in ways she hasn’t been able to grasp in all her years. From her relationship with Preacher, Mary’s husband, she learns about acceptance, patience, and the carving of wood. Eventually, her life on the farm, the lessons learned, and her relationship with the older couple shines enough light to raise the grain of her life, and Blue begins to see her way back where she belongs.
When the time is right, Blue takes her new-found love and skills back to her home in North Carolina. Just when she thinks her life is settling down, she’s making a name for herself with her new business, and she’s content to mentor others, someone from Blue’s past appears to turn Blue’s world upside down. Trust, love, and the patience Blue has learned from her experience living with her old friends, Mary and Preacher, are tested in ways she never imagined.
The plot line leads the reader through Blue’s struggles as she comes to terms with the phases of her life that are sometimes filled with struggles of her own choosing. The changes and the lessons learned are subtle and sometimes tortuous. The character of Blue Riley is endearing, even in her frustrating, meandering choices. The feelings between Blue and Grace are enthralling on the one hand and exasperating on the other. There is a great deal to love in these two women, but there is disappointment in the turns their lives sometimes take.
One thing is indisputable: the love story in Finding the Grain is timeless. The search contains that universal theme we all follow to one degree or another as we mature. The wandering will be familiar to many who have been adrift. Wynn Malone has given us a story that is a reflection of an everlasting love that makes us sigh with a deep, abiding sigh and characters that are full of limitation, love, and intelligence. She also gives us moments of poignancy and grace in Blue’s relationship with Mary and Preacher that serve her well. Take a journey with memorable characters in this tale of courage and determination.
Finding the Grain
By Wynn Malone
Paperback, 9781612940458, 400 pp.