by Anna Waggener
Grim, as my first book after a long semester of graduate school, was a particularly enthusiastic read for me. The author, Anna Waggener, was a classmate of mine in undergraduate school. Please, though, do not think my favorable comments about Grim are in any way the result of friendly support. I do not deny that I may lack the ability to offer deep criticism of the plot and writing style, because I am excited for Anna’s career as a writer and believe in supporting such a talented writer at the beginning.
Grim follows the meeting of Erika and Jeremiah and their death defying adventures in a city of souls. Erika struggles to understand her place in the limbo city – is she dead or can she return to Earth? She yearns to be reunited with her three children, but finds herself making decisions distorted by desire, love, and an inability to relinquish the past.
Anna creates a dark world that counters every dreamy conception of life after death. From the poverty stricken souls who cannot release their souls from their physical bodies to the cut-throat family politics of the underworld, the world of Grim captures the grittiness of life and death while illuminating the potential for peace and rest if only we could just let go. Anna explores the complexities of love, life, and death in a way many may see as overly mature for someone her age, but she handles the difficult material with graceful prose. Her writing style overflows with color and beauty as she relates the stories of lost souls in a grim world.
For a first novel, Anna finds the balance between providing the foundations for an imagined world and letting the reader fill in the blanks. She also established a voice in her dialogue that many writers struggle for their entire career. However, the back story behind Grim left me confused and frustrated many times. Anna leaves many questions about Jeremiah and the history of the Middle Kingdom’s royal family unanswered. She includes snip-its to keep the reader intrigued and engulfed in the mystery of this soap opera family, but does not illuminate enough of the past to fully explain the unfolding story. For some readers this mystery may not be an issue, but I found that the complexity and the meatiness (for a lack of a better term at the moment) of Grim could have reached the next level with a few more background questions answered.
Anna Waggener explores the meaning of true death in her first novel Grim. The book flows as if the reader is riding on the river Styx and carries one to some beautiful conclusions about the role of love and the existence of the soul in life after death. Grim offers an intriguing quick read in 320 pages that will leave you sitting in a moment of silence after reading the main characters closings reflections.
I enjoyed Anna’s first novel and look forward to the rest of her writing career.