The Grace of Crows by Tracy Shawn
Cherokee McGhee L.L.C (2013)
Reviewed by Sarah Widdup for Say What? Savannah Mae September 2013
With books, as with much of life, the reader comes to the page with their own preconceived ideas. Much of Tracy Shawn’s debut novel, The Grace of Crows, deals with this very thing – the preconceived ideas and behaviors we live with, and what happens when they go from a vague hunch to an all-consuming anxiety.
Main character, Saylor, is an anxious lady, conditioned by years spent dealing with the often cruel behavior of her dysfunctional (and firmly in denial) parents. As an adult she’s dealing with the aftermath, and trying her best not to let the shards of her own issues stick in the lives of her teenage children. She’s sweet, kind and overly self-critical, and you can’t help but feel she’s going to make it, even when she is freaking out.
Tracy Shawn has written a wonderful character with Saylor, but not only that, she has created a cast of supporting characters that could slot into just about any real family on the planet. From the zoned-out hubby and teens-in-hiding, to the acerbic best friend and regally nuts mother, there’s a perfect mix of real world wit and wisdom here that pulls the story along well. Even in Billy, who we don’t really get to know that well, there’s a certain world-weary, overwhelmed smartness that gets to the core without any mumbo-jumbo or complex psychological terminology.
This could be your family, my family, anyone’s family, because it is real. Anxiety, along with many other mental illnesses and neurological differences, is a real part of day-to-day life for large proportion of us, and in making this story so accessible, Shawn is doing her bit to bring our secrets out into the light where they can get the attention they deserve.
And that, I think, is the joy of this book. Shawn removes the stigma by essentially stating the obvious – these are normal people beset by something they need help and understanding to surmount. We know that, we hear it all the time, but not often is it woven into a story that paints the picture so well, and so simply.
Anxiety has been misunderstood for years, even the word has a big, nasty x-marks-the-spot right in the middle, singling out the person being described as some kind of hand-wringing over-sensitive lunatic who should just take a chill pill. Thankfully for those who suffer from anxiety, in any of its forms, this book takes away that unfair stigma and presents a very real picture of just how life-changing and uncontrollable it can be – on the way down to the depths and back out the other side to a semblance of peace of mind.
This is a simple, beautiful story, and if you suffer from anxiety, love someone who does, or just like to be inspired by the human spirit, I suggest you pick up a copy soon.