cover image GRACE


Elizabeth Nunez, . . Ballantine, $23.95 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-345-45533-8

Nunez's latest (after Discretion) is a perceptive and moving tale of an African-American middle-class marriage struggling to right itself amid tremors of self-discovery. Both Justin Peters, a professor of literature at a college in Brooklyn, and his wife, Sally, a primary school teacher, have sacrificed a great deal in making their way in white America. Justin, a Trinidadian Harvard graduate, adheres fiercely to the "Dead White Men" of the classical canon, despite his college's party line of Afrocentricity. Sally, whose father was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan, abandoned her ambitions to be a poet after the violent death of her former lover. Yet their comfortable life with their four-year-old daughter, Giselle, is not enough for Sally, who informs Justin that she needs "space" and moves in with her best friend. Bewildered by and critical of what he sees as Sally's feminist platitudes, Justin suspects lesbianism, seeing a parallel with his own troubled student, Mark, who discovers that his girlfriend is sleeping with her white female professor. Sally's inability to articulate what she lacks feeds Justin's feelings of helplessness, underscored by a colleague's accusations of Uncle Tomism. In exquisitely tuned prose, Nunez depicts a man's lonely attempt to save his marriage while honoring his roots. Adopting Justin's sage, reasoned point of view tempered by the Great Books he teaches, Nunez allows the narrative to unfold with understated elegance. Although Sally's existential struggle often seems unfocused and simplistic, Justin must learn to reacquaint himself with the woman he loves. As in most of life, there is no shattering epiphany here but, rather, a subtly shaded landscape, at once familiar and pitted with hidden challenges. Agent, Ivy Fischer Stone. (Mar.)