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Formats
Ebook Details
  • 12/2020
  • 978-1-62660-156-7 B08M4CGNQG
  • 251 pages
  • $2.99
Paperback Details
  • 12/2020
  • 9798697945605 B08MSMP6DW
  • 263 pages
  • $12.99
Everything That Came Before Grace
Bill See, author

Adult; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Market)

A single-father comes of age as he discovers whether it’s love or fatherhood that could save him. Haunted by his mother’s death and a series of serendipitous events from his past, Benjamin Bradford desperately tries to keep his mental illness under control while raising his daughter Sophia. Set against the iconic streets of Los Angeles, there’s music always playing, heavy therapy sessions and private emails to discern, shattered friendships and betrayal, and the specter of a true love that got away. Think: Silver Linings Playbook meets High Fidelity with a dash of Eighth Grade. Can Benjamin find redemption? Can he escape his demons and find love again? Come along for the ride and find out.
Reviews
See (33 Days: Touring in a Van, Sleeping On Floors, Chasing a Dream) details the trials and triumphs of a single father struggling with mental illness in this poignant, disarmingly honest novel. Los Angeles native Benjamin Bradford battles daily against depression and anxiety while striving to raise his daughter, Sophia, with the sense of safety and routine missing from his own childhood. Benjamin’s life changes when he receives an invitation to his college friend Keith’s wedding to Anna—Benjamin’s one true love. The invitation triggers a narrative segue to their college days, and in the present readers are immersed in the internal turmoil as Benjamin still pines for Anna and feels lonely as adult friendships wax and wane.

See captures the common struggles of single parenthood in pithy, poignant lines that convey how quickly the little mishaps of day-to-day living can spark a downward spiral of anger and guilt when mental illness is a factor. Benjamin is devoted to his daughter and single-mindedly committed to ensuring she grows up happy, healthy, and sane. Propelled by a determination to be different from his unstable mother or absentee father, Benjamin’s resolve to protect Sophia ultimately drives a painful wedge between them as she matures.

See captures Benjamin’s mental health struggles with unflinching clarity, detailing the creeping in of destructive thoughts and highlighting Benjamin’s use of music and compulsive routines to handle them. Benjamin’s enduring love for Anna and immovable belief that they’re meant to be together smacks of obsession; therapy sessions and advice from a colleague illuminate the underlying toxicity in the relationship when Anna and Keith rekindle their friendship with Benjamin. Readers who stick with Benjamin through these ups and downs will find their way to a satisfying ending. See’s tenderly frank portrayal of single parenthood within the miasma of anxiety and depression will have readers engrossed.

Takeaway: Single parents and anyone who’s had to cope with mental illness will find much they can relate to in See’s poignant and honest tale of parenthood on the rocks.

Great for fans of: Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive, Mira T. Lee’s Everything Here Is Beautiful, Adam Haslett’s Imagine Me Gone.

Production grades
Cover: C+
Design and typography: B+
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B-
Marketing copy: A

Kerkus

See offers a novel about a mentally ill man seeking inner peace while raising a young daughter.

Los Angeles veterinary technician Benjamin Bradford feels as if he’s living a double life. On the one hand, he does his job well and manages to successfully take care of his child, Sophia; on the other, he’s persistently struggling with the stress of mental illness—“this place inside, where I hear the voices and do battle with all my selves.” Bradford shares his thoughts with Cassandra,the therapist he’s been seeing for nine years, whom he describes as having “a kind of serene and celestial otherness to her.” In his sessions, he worries about his ability to raise a daughter in a healthy environment when he constantly feels like he could lose control; indeed, he berates himself for every time he’s raised his voice to Sophia despite his therapist’s advice that he cut himself some slack. This is difficult for Bradford to do, as mental illness runs in his family, afflicting both his mother and his grandmother, and his father disappeared from his life when he was very young, giving him tense, ambivalent feelings about fatherhood: “A father,” he reflects at one point, “is a ghost, someone who walks out on you, and leaves a hole in your heart.” When Bradford receives an invitation to the wedding of his best friend, Keith Ramsey, and his former love, Anna Robertson,he’s engulfed by memories of their shared college days in the 1990s. Pleasant recollections lead to traumatic ones, which add further depth to this heavily retrospective novel.

See carefully and skillfully balances the present and past in his narrative, although the prolonged flashbacks inevitably slow the present-day storyline’s momentum. As tensions mount between father and daughter, and as Sophia rebels against Bradford’s moodiness and caution, readers are treated to dramatic scenes with powerful exchanges: “Just because you have no friends and no life, doesn’t mean you can force me to stay home and watch you be miserable,” Sophia says at one point. “Why can’t you just let me live my life?” But as well-written as these scenes are, they have to perform double duty; they not only need to move readers emotionally, but also extract them from long stretches of 1990s-set narrative, which get lost in excessive period trivia. It’s tough to balance a delicate portrayal of a father-daughter dynamic amid seemingly endless references to the Beastie Boys, Roxy Music, Nirvana, mixtapes, and boom boxes, although See generally manages to succeed, nonetheless. That said, readers will find that even two-thirds of the way into the book, very little has happened to present-day Bradford, who’s still at the same job, still talking to the same therapist, still having occasional flare-ups with his daughter, and still pining after the lost Anna. Although the author is an unfailingly energetic guide, some readers will likely wish that the narrative had a bit more get-up-and-go.

An emotionally powerful but structurally awkward novel about a troubled man’s quest for redemption.

Formats
Ebook Details
  • 12/2020
  • 978-1-62660-156-7 B08M4CGNQG
  • 251 pages
  • $2.99
Paperback Details
  • 12/2020
  • 9798697945605 B08MSMP6DW
  • 263 pages
  • $12.99

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