Monday, March 17, 2014

Finding the Grain by Wynn Malone

Book: Finding the Grain
Author: Wynn Malone
Publisher: Bywater Books

A grain is a unit of measurement of mass equal to 64.79891 milligrams—or to put it in the vernacular, the weight of a single seed of a cereal, such as barley or wheat.

But grain has a lot of other meanings.

There’s the grain of cloth, which determines how fabric will hang, drape, and stretch. You can have a lengthwise grain, a crosswise grain, and a bias grain. Cut it the wrong way, and your sleeves get twisted, your buttons become askew, and your shoulder seams start to pucker.

Then there’s the grain in meat, which refers to the distinctive lines of muscle fibers running parallel to each other—some fibers run very closely together, while others are less compact and more defined. Close means tender; less compact means chewy. Regardless of the cut of meat, slicing at a perpendicular angle to the grain will result in pieces that are easier to chew.

Our everyday lives are inundated with any number of grains, including salt, sand, dust, paradise, mustard seed, film, ammunition, hope, and truth. Heck, even the University of California Press published a posthumous series of interviews with Roland Barthes called The Grain Of The Voice—a quirky little work detailing his thoughts on cinema, fashion, writing, and his love affair with Semiotics.

And then, there is the grain of wood—the alternating regions of darker and lighter wood that are a result of differing growth parameters during different seasons. Understanding wood grain is a relatively complex art and science, especially when it comes to woodworking and building—because all wood is not created equal. You can have a straight grain, spiral grain, or interlocked grain. Your grain can be aligned in a burl, fiddleback, bird’s eye, quilted, or curly form. When wood is cut, it can be flat-sawn, slab-sawn, quarter-sawn, rift-sawn, straight-grained, plain sawn, or end grain. And, if you go with the grain, you end up with a stronger and cleaner piece of wood, while going against the grain will result in warping, chipping, and tearing.

Enter Finding the Grain by Bywater Books author, Wynn Malone.

In her final month of high school, Augusta “Blue” Riley’s parents are killed by a tornado. With her life in tatters, Blue reluctantly gives up her long-standing dream of attending Auburn, moves to North Carolina to be closer to her aunt, and enrolls at UNC. During a spur-of-the-moment trip through a charity car wash, she meets the beautiful and intriguing sorority girl, Grace Lancaster. Blue and Grace fall deeply in love, but their relationship must stay hidden from Grace’s wealthy family and her sorority sisters. When Grace finally succumbs to the pressure and expectations of her father and ends the relationship, Blue goes into a tailspin that changes the carefully plotted course of her life for the next twenty years.

After moving from town to town, job to job, woman to woman, Blue meets Preacher Rowe, a Mississippi farmer, and his invalid wife Mary. She hires on, returning to her farming roots, helping around the house, and caring for Mary.  But Preacher is more than a Delta farmer, and Mary is a wise woman full of love and understanding. As the unlikely trio develops a special bond, Preacher takes Blue on as an apprentice in his woodworking studio.

It is while she hones her skills in the art and craft of fine woodworking, that Blue is finally able to come to terms with love and loss, and find the inner peace she has been chasing since she lost her parents. When she has learned everything there is to learn from Preacher, she returns to the mountains of North Carolina to build a life as a master craftsman, acquiring friends, family, a successful business, and a place to call home.

And then one day Grace walks through the door…

Clocking in at almost four-hundred pages, Wynn Malone’s Finding the Grain provides readers and romantics with a wellspring of riches. The story, broken into four sections, chronicles critical phases of Blue’s twenty-year sojourn—the loss of innocence tempered by the sweet satisfaction of first love, the years of heartbreak, despair, and disassociation, a period of revelation and healing, and finally, reconciliation and redemption. The characters are well defined, the dialogue flows, and the storyline is sprinkled with moments of shear beauty and poetry. 

French designer, Christian Louboutin, once said, “My father, who was a cabinetmaker, told me, 'Wood has a grain and if you go into the grain, you have beauty. If you go against it, you have splinters—it breaks.' And I took that as my view of life. You have to follow the grain—to be sensitive to the direction of life.”

Author Wynn Malone
Finding the Grain is a complete story—each character has a purpose and every scene advances the plot. Most rewarding, though, is Ms. Malone’s deft use of metaphor: each packing a punch without beating the reader over the head. Woodworking works not only as sanctuary, but also as a means to find redemption and resurrection. By “finding the grain,” Blue got her groove back. Beyond that, the name “Blue” is apropos for such a dispirited woman. “Grace” is elegant and refined—and her memory is deified by Blue throughout the years. Perhaps the richest metaphor of all is the “vanity” table that Blue designs. Carved, and constructed out of enduring love, the piece of furniture was too close to her heart to sell, until she finally attains her own emotional and psychological state of Grace.

Finding the Grain is a smart, sweet and satisfying love story that takes its time. There are moments of sheer joy and tragedy, humor and darkness, faith and faithlessness. It’s a romance, but it’s also a journey—the kind of journey that the romantic in each of us craves. And, while it offers some surprisingly saucy tidbits, Ms. Malone’s story is richer and more textured than a simple romp in the hay, and should satisfy a wide-range of readers looking for a solid, engaging, and well-written story.