Unlike the Graces of Greek mythology, the ones in Patricia Gaffney's feel-good novel, The Saving Graces, are not in the business of dispensing charm and beauty. Though they possess some measure of good looks, Gaffney's Graces are more focused on the less ethereal problems of life: men, careers, babies, death. And there are four, rather than three, of them (Emma, Rudy, Lee, and Isabel), who have been getting together for regular dinners in their Washington, D.C., homes for 10 years.
The narration of The Saving Graces rotates among the four women and gets right to the heart of each Grace--the stories they tell stick close to the territory of their emotional lives. This intimate directness makes Gaffney's women seem, well, womanly. Serene Isabel, who has always been "the best champion, the kindest friend" to all the other Graces, is dying of breast cancer. Rudy needs to leave her ultra-controlling husband. Lee, usually the rational one, is possessed by her desire to have a baby. Ironic Emma wants to write a novel and has a hard crush on a married man. This group feels messy and real: they keep secrets from each other, grate on one another's nerves, and analyze each other. But ultimately, all four know that they've lucked into a very good thing. Not just because they share the sweetness and silliness that comes with friendship, but also because they are willing to act as soldiers for each other. When Rudy finally gets up the nerve to leave her husband, for example, she doesn't do it alone: "Isabel stood on my right, Lee on my left. Emma had taken a seat on the bed--an escalation of the offense, usurping more enemy territory." In Gaffney's universe, women armed with grace, humor, and a couple of good girlfriends can transcend even the most painful events in their lives. --Katherine Anderson