Book review by Roy E. Perry: “Saving Grace” by Lee Smith


Editor’s Note:  Over the past few weeks, Roy E. Perry of Nolensville—who wrote book reviews for The Tennessean and Nashville Banner for more than 30 years—has been enthusiastically making his way through the novels of Southern writer Lee Smith. Underground Nashville is always proud to post Mr. Perry’s reviews, and we hope you’ll enjoy his latest:


Published in 1995, Saving Grace by Lee Smith is the story of “Gracie” Shepherd’s tortuous pilgrimage, an embattled journey between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the spirit.

Gracie’s father, the Rev. Virgil Shepherd, is a charismatic preacher at the Jesus Name Church of God who takes up serpents—timber rattlesnakes, copperheads, and moccasins—as a “sign” of God’s miraculous presence. A plaster saint, scalawag, and compulsive womanizer, Virgil alternates between the passionate preaching of God’s Word and periodic backslidings with hussies.

Confused by her father’s hypocrisies and by the tragic death of her mother, Gracie is seduced by her half-brother, Lamar; marries a dour “saint,” Travis Word—a man 25 years her senior, by whom she has two children—and, deserting her husband, has a torrid affair with a married man, handyman Randy Newhouse.

A feisty gal who has too much animal nature, Gracie suffers from a lack of constraint, and is unable to control her emotions. Although indulging in trashy behavior, she is a person searching for hard ground in a world of shifting sands. One pulls for Gracie—that this lost soul might be saved, that she might find light in a world of darkness.

In a note following the end of the novel, Lee Smith offers a personal and most revealing comment: “In a way my writing is a lifelong search for belief.” Although she claims that Saving Grace is entirely a work of the imagination, Ms. Smith forces us to wonder if she has experienced in her own pilgrimage a similar soul-wrenching conflict of unbelief and faith.

Saving Grace is a powerful tale of Gracie’s struggle to free herself from her father’s rigid fundamentalism and find emotional stability in a world full of devilish temptations. The conclusion of the novel is ambiguous: Will Gracie yield to her mother’s suicidal despair or finally find peace of soul?

David M. (Dave) Carew is writer/editor of “Underground Nashville” and the author of the novels “Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville” and “Voice from the Gutter,” both now available at Dave also is a freelance book editor, publicist, seminar and workshop leader, journalist, and advertising / marketing / public relations writer.

Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville by Dave Carew—which was praised by The Tennessean as “beautiful, haunting, powerful”—is now available in an all-new paperback edition. For more information, please visit and “like” the page on Facebook:

Do you want to help homeless people in Nashville learn culinary arts and other employment skills that provide a specific, effective path off the streets? Please visit and consider making a financial contribution. Any amount is very helpful and appreciated. Thank you.


Editor’s Note: “Underground Nashville” covers artists, authors, musicians, poets, political figures, and other compelling people and happenings not typically covered by the mainstream Nashville media. It also presents reflections and commentary from an underground/indie perspective, offering “thoughts from the shadows of a great American city.”

Dave Carew


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