Cracking Grace by Stephen Stromp is a story of three worlds. Audrey and her father, Richard Lansly, appear at the beginning of the story and inhabit the world of the living. Audrey’s father is a sculptor and caretaker at a local cemetery. He is proud and conscientious in his job as a caretaker and proud of his skill as a sculptor. Many of the tombstones are his creations. Richard has even sculpted the statue of Jesus out of a block of marble. Audrey and Richard live in a caretaker’s cottage near the cemetery. The two had always enjoyed walks through the woods and picnics by the nearby river until Audrey’s mom died. Now, whenever Audrey and her father agree to go to the river for a picnic or even just for relaxation, Audrey’s father stops at the cemetery to talk to his wife, Pat and contemplates the meaning of life at the site of his wife’s grave. He never goes further. Audrey misses her mother but also misses the times she had at the river with her father.
Statues of Mary, Jesus, and a couple of Gargoyles (Arthur and Gareth) occupy a second world, one of the statues constructed by Audrey’s father and who act as witnesses to the life of Audrey, her father, and a spirit being, Mrs. Grant, in the transition from life to final death. The statues have conversations between each other but these conversations cannot be labeled face-to-face conversations. Mary can only stare straight ahead, she cannot turn to see Jesus. Mary, Jesus, and the two Gargoyles can hear and talk to each other. Visual contact is dependent on their positioning as statues.
The third world is that of the dead. Audrey and her father speculate on this world and discuss the state of the dead mother and wife. Audrey’s father stresses the importance of remembering and honoring his wife. He does this by frequent and lengthy visits to his wife’s grave. Audrey agrees and wants to honor her mother. She also visits the cemetery but feels that her life should go forward. Audrey thinks a good step forward is further visits to the river. She makes these visits but does so alone. The statues also contemplate the relationship between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Mary wants to know why humans visit a nearby church and through the Strange Man, an inhabitant of the church, ask for the help of Mary and Jesus. Mary seeks clarification and information from Bluebell, a bluebird which acts as an information exchange between the statues, the living world that includes the church, Audrey, and her father; and the spirit in transition, Mrs. Grant. Bluebell communicates mostly with Mary and “alternate Mary” who resembles the statue Mary in the cemetery but has her own place on an altar in the church of the Strange Man.
One day the beloved river, the one admired by Mary, the one she desires so much to visit, comes to visit Audrey and Richard in their cottage. As it advances on the cottage, it threatens the grave of Audrey’s mom. This is unacceptable to Audrey’s father; he must rescue his wife. The impending flood also threatens the cemetery’s statues and gargoyles. Bluebell communicates information to all actors on the progress of the flood and efforts made to manage it. Will further tragedies happen? This novella is worth reading to find out.
I gave this story four Amazon stars. It is not an exciting action novella. It invites thought about what happens after life. It invites thoughts about religion, the importance of religious icons, and the importance of the church on routines of the daily lives of the living. There are four small sections after the end of the story which reveal the author’s research or inspiration to write this story. The section on Audrey’s family, the Grant family, and the church in the story almost give a sense of non-fiction to the story. Then Stromp included a section on the talking bluebird which carries the story back firmly into the fiction realm. This novel is available for free reading through a Kindle Unlimited subscription.