Weaving together powerful gospel truths and psychologically-driven fiction, GG Vandagriff’s Pieces of Paris takes readers on an emotional ride that winds through the darkest recesses of painful memories, plunges into unexpected realities, then climbs to breathtaking vistas of understanding, forgiveness and love.
In Pieces of Paris we see the unraveling of Annalisse, a woman who seems to have everything until dark memories she’s kept deeply buried for years claw their way to the surface, threatening to destroy everything she holds dear.
The story opens with Annalisse, a woman in her twenties, living a quiet, normal life on a farm in the Ozarks. She is expecting her second child and is mom to three-and-a-half-year-old son Jordan. But after four and a half years of bliss she suddenly finds herself being haunted by the past. Her predictable but seemingly happy life with husband Dennis, an attorney, begins to crumble.
The first paragraph of the book reads:
It was the simple things that undid her, Annalisse had discovered. Something as ordinary as the scent of lilacs when the air was heavy, a brief measure of Tchaikovsky, or a dream. A dream like the one she’d awakened from last night — so real she could smell the Paris Metro in it. Any of these things could revive in a moment the memories she’d spent the last six years burying. They crept under the leaden shield around her heart and found the small, secret place where she still had feeling.
So begins Annalisse’s journey of facing a past she’d blocked from her reality until piece by piece, the fragments began to fit together, forcing her to face the pain she’d thought she’d covered . . . until now.
Leaving another life behind, Annaliese finds refuge and safety in the arms of her beloved, idealistic, husband, Dennis. He is her anchor, her strength, and she puts her past behind her to be with him, and that includes moving to his idea of the Garden of Eden — the Ozarks.
When he meets Annalisse, Dennis knows she is someone unique and special. Dealing with pain from his own past and a broken heart, he focuses on this beautiful woman. Vastly different from his past relationship, Annalisse immediately appears to be the perfect person to heal his disillusionment. Dennis knows they are meant to be together.
When the flashbacks begin, Annalisse keeps them to herself, certain that telling Dennis will destroy their relationship. At the same time Dennis is battling with a controversial legal case, fighting against an industrial firm that is trying to cover up a toxic waste dump, a case that has put his family in danger.
As each challenge grows and pushes them apart, Dennis and Annalisse both begin to wonder if their marriage is what they really wanted or expected and if the person they are with now is anything like the person they thought they married.
Vandagriff has a true gift of words and paints glorious scenes and intense emotion in this well-paced, gripping drama. This powerful story of second chances, the gift of forgiveness, and the depth of truth will resonate with readers of all ages and stations in life.
And in the final pages we find the true meaning of the story.
“The day I met you, all I could see anywhere I looked was pain and no possibility of making a difference. You were the only bright thing, and you came just in time.”
“I couldn’t have looked very bright. Oh, Dennis.” She buried her head in his shoulder and held on to him. “You were my only bright thing, too. How have we gotten this far with all these ridiculous expectations of each other?”
Remembering the Twenty-third Psalm he was silent, stroking her hair.
“There’s only one Savior,” Dennis told her.
One of the best ways to truly understand this story is to understand the author, GG Vandagriff. I was able to interview her and ask her about her experiences that led up to writing this book.
M. Bell: Where did you get the idea for the book?
GG Vandagriff: It was a combination of three very disparate things: 1.) A funny incident when we went canoeing in the Ozarks and David was sitting in the back and I was in the front. He kept yelling “paddle on the right,” “paddle on the left.” I looked back and he wasn’t paddling at all!
I started laughing at him, because he was so earnest and worried we were going to capsize. We did! We swam in that muddy, cow dung-infested creek and he lost his wallet. I have rarely laughed so hard, but even at this distance, he still doesn’t think it was funny. In my writer’s mind, I thought of what a wonderful parody this was of our marriage. “Paddle on the Right” was the name of the story for years, until I found out what the book was really about, and had to remove the scene.
2.) The Tchaikovsky violin concerto, which I am listening to as I write this. To me, it is the most sublime piece of music written, and is so evocative of every human motion. I was so in love with it, that it veritably created Jules and his whole life and character as he appears in the book. Everything about Jules is in that concerto, except that the concerto ends triumphantly. I hope some day to meet Tchaikovsky (and Tolstoy).
3.) An incident in my doctor’s office that started me thinking: he was the same age and had been a Vietnam War protestor. So had David. I had lost my fiancé in the war. How had it affected our later lives? How did the three of us end up in the Ozarks? Did our past anger and helplessness at the government’s actions have anything to do with our “searching for Eden”? In my doctor’s case, he had graduated at the top of his class and chose to work in a small rural town where he could really help people. Ditto for David, only he was a lawyer. I just wanted to raise my children to be safe. When you read the book, you will definitely recognize all of us: Dr. Gregory, Dennis, and Annalisse. Because the Vietnam War is so far in the past, that eventually went out of the book, as it aged.
M. Bell: What was the research process for this story like? How long did you spend gathering information?
GG Vandagriff: The research was all internal. I had to go through PTSD and then discover what was wrong with me and how to put it behind me. I was actually having PTSD over my fiancé who was killed in the war. It was very painful. But, as I said the war is not in the book. The PTSD is, however, and I have read a lot about it. The places in the book: I lived in a town that is the model for Blue Creek for sixteen years, I studied near Vienna for six months, and I have visited Paris on many occasions, starting when I was sixteen.
M. Bell: Given that this book is so personal, what was the writing process like for you?
GG Vandagriff: This book taught me everything I know about writing classic fiction.
I worked closely with a freelance editor who operated like a gem-cutter. She saw the brilliance in the story, and cut away all the dross, inspiring me to write more cleanly. She even recognized things that I hadn’t realized about the story and its development, and so it switched into an entirely different mode. It went from being semi-humorous (I always hide my true feelings in humor) into a book about the “hard questions” of life and marriage, and the triumph of truth over the evil that would separate husbands and wives.
M. Bell: What is the theme of the story, and why did you write about it?
GG Vandagriff: The theme of the story is the difference between narcissistic love (the feeling we have when we think, “Ah this person was created just for me”) and real love, when you would sacrifice almost anything in Christlike love for your spouse. That is a big jump, and takes a complex story crafted with much difficulty to tell. It also takes a lifetime of experience.
M. Bell: What do you want readers to get from this story?
GG Vandagriff: I am hoping that they will give more thought to their own marriages, deconstructing them to the basics, and then, with the help of the Savior, reconstructing them into Celestial marriages.