Act of Grace by Anna Krien review – a hugely impressive first novel

Gerry brings a snake skin home to his mother one day, hoping to scare her. Instead she stares at it wistfully. “It must be an incredible feeling,” she says. “Imagine being new again.”

Almost everyone in Australian journalist and poet Anna Krien’s hugely impressive first novel, which connects an Iraqi brothel, a Melbourne street piano and a North Dakota pipeline protest, hopes to slough off a traumatic past. Act of Grace begins with Gerry’s father Toohey, who is discharged from the Australian army after a friendly fire incident in Baghdad in 2003. He works dead-end jobs and boils with rage and anxiety. Every few months, a fragment of shrapnel works its way out of his scarred neck.

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