Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 7, 2023

Sufficient Grace (2012), by Amy Espeseth

It’s bright, clear and cold here in Bendigo for the BWF, and I have just enough time before breakfast to tell you about the book I finished reading last night.  It’s Sufficient Grace by Amy Espeseth, and I have had it on the TBR since I went to a Debut Authors reading event at the Wheeler Centre, back in 2012.

It was a reading that made us sit up and take notice, and I don’t imagine anyone was much surprised when the novel went on to be shortlisted for the 2014 Barbara Jefferis Award. But I still didn’t take the book off the shelf and read it because I was a bit put off by the excerpt that Amy had read.  The novel begins with a hunting scene in the harsh winter in Wisconsin. It was such vivid writing that I couldn’t get it out of my head… which is what you want, but not about deer hunting!

Especially when it seems that this violent scene is a portent. This is the blurb for the book:

Ruth and her cousin Naomi live in rural Wisconsin, part of an isolated religious community. The girls’ lives are ruled by the rhythms of nature — the harsh winters, the hunting seasons, the harvesting of crops — and by their families’ beliefs. Beneath the surface of this closed, frozen world, hidden dangers lurk.

Then Ruth learns that Naomi harbours a terrible secret. She searches for solace in the mysteries of the natural world: broken fawns, migrating birds, and the strange fish deep beneath the ice. Can the girls’ prayers for deliverance be answered?

Sufficient Grace is a story of lost innocence and the unfailing bond between two young women. It is at once devastating and beautiful, and ultimately transcendent.

The religious community is not just close knit and insular (and everyone is related to everyone else somehow), it is also a world unto itself.  There is no sense of this community being part of America geographically, much less as part of an economic system, and disturbingly, not subject to its laws.  So as Ruth and Naomi reach puberty and become more interesting to the young men around them, the reader knows that there is trouble afoot, because theirs is the kind of god-fearing community that has very rigid ideas about young women and purity.

When the inevitable happens, the consequences are even more horrific than I had imagined, and though the girls try painfully hard to conceal their secret, the vengeance when truth is known is even more horrific.

Sufficient Grace is remarkably mature writing for a debut novelist. The narration by Ruth shows on the one hand how earnestly she believes the religious messages with she has been indoctrinated, and it is this belief that for most of the novel enables her to believe that if she prays hard enough their problems will be solved.  On the other hand, we see the cracks in this belief system: a recognition that it isn’t fair to women and girls, that justice is arbitrary, and that a religion supposedly of love does nothing to help rifts in families or to enable redemption. Theirs is a stern God with implacable demands.

The novel is structured perfectly.  Events happen in chronological order, which is IMO most appropriate for a coming-of-age novel, and the narrative cycles through the harsh cold seasons to reach its terrible  climax.  The natural world is rendered with an authenticity which must come from the author’s own experience of living in similar conditions.

I had kept a review by Conrad Walters from the Saturday Age, where mention was made of a further novel with the title Trouble Telling the Weather, but I haven’t been able to find any trace of this very promising author’s writing career in the last decade. Let’s hope she’s been quietly working on another novel as good as this one.

Author: Amy Espeseth
Title: Sufficient Grace
Cover design by Allison Colpays
Publisher: Scribe Publications, 2012
ISBN: 9781922070029, pbk., 327 pages
Source: Personal copy, purchased at a Wheeler Centre event


  1. Great title and seems an important book at this time.


    • Yes, it seems more so now than when I bought it. Back then, those rigid Christian groups seemed to be just in the backwaters of the US, but now they are causing major grief from within one of our major political parties…


  2. I had a copy of this back in the day but somewhere along the line it got culled 😬


    • She was a writer of such promise and she seems to have disappeared out of the literary scene…
      I’d love to hear some good news of her.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I remember this title … but as you say haven’t heard of the author since.

    I must say that I’m impressed that you had the energy to read a completely different book and write a review of it while at a festival!


    • It was easy choice, Sue. Watch the coronation, or…


  4. This does sound excellent. Such a striking cover too – so simple but really powerful!


  5. Growing up in mid Michigan in the 50s and 60s there were plenty of various churches and religious sects around. Also my birthday fell on opening day of deer hunting season. The winters are so harsh if deer weren’t hunted they would starve to death and the majoritynof hunters ate the meat throughout winter. Unlike the culls of deer that are going to happen from helicopters in Tasmania now and deer left to rot. Yet hunters want to harvest them for food it is not going to happen. Though I digress. Sounds an interesting book.


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