Grace of the Gingko by Michael R. Hardesty

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In The Grace of the Gingko, author Michael R. Hardesty gives us an all-too-human protagonist in David Foley. Post-divorced, David raises his boy alone. When his son is killed during the Gulf War, he moves to Louisville, Kentucky to be near his only remaining family, his pregnant daughter-in-law. When she dies during childbirth, David finds himself guardian of a newborn. Like many grandparents today, he becomes a parent for the second time and raises his now-orphaned granddaughter. Frequently David juggles the responsibilities of parenting better than he handles his aging body and his social and sexual needs. Somehow he surrounds himself with an all-star cast of friends and family for support.

This is a poignant, moving narrative about beating one’s past, understanding one’s present, and confronting one’s place in the universe. Hardesty guides the reader with a deft hand through Foley’s raging internal battles waged between his coarseness and his urbanity, his temper and his equanimity, his Catholic upbringing and his professed atheism. Definitely a five-star read.


David Foley, a lonely, divorced businessman, is devastated when his only son dies at the hands of a terrorist in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. Only the contemplation of his imminent grandchild rallies him from a debilitating depression. David sells his successful Boston business, leaves New England, and moves to Louisville, KY to be near his son’s pregnant widow and await the birth of his granddaughter, Liesl.

Author Michael R. Hardesty

Author Michael R. Hardesty

When his daughter-in-law dies while birthing Liesl, David assumes the guardianship of the infant, changing his life forever. An avowed atheist, he’s often at odds with Madonna, the deceased woman’s staunchly Catholic sister who, along with her husband, has her own seven-child family.

Though he wears his atheism on his sleeve, David realizes a relationship with Madonna and her family would benefit his granddaughter. The religious polarity causes him to deftly maneuver through precarious conflicts in search of the elusive common ground between Madonna’s devout Catholicism and his own passionate impiety.

Hardesty takes advantage of his narrative’s twenty-four year time frame to create a wide cast of memorable characters that populate David and Liesl’s world. These include Dexter, a dangerous fugitive who confronts them in a road rage incident, Emily, a single mom who David meets while tending Liesl in a local park, and Samantha, a banal but lovable teenager who becomes Liesl’s embedded babysitter.

There’s also Sheila, the wealthy, married, and promiscuous mother of one of Liesl’s classmates, and Joel, a teenage schoolmate of Liesl’s, who David stumbles upon in a compromising position with his granddaughter. Enter Justine, a recently divorced and transplanted classical musician on whom David has definite designs. Next comes Alan, a grad student Liesl falls in love with while away at college, then Nestor, a brutal family abuser who preys upon his wife and daughter, both clients of Liesl, now a counselor at a woman’s shelter.

As David flits between crudity and gentility, the story itself seamlessly conveys the reader between humor and poignancy, hope and despair, performing arts and violence. David’s final two dramatic acts beg the questions: were these noble and courageous deeds, or evil and cowardly actions. Is this a man of probity, sometimes failing his own standards, or is he an immoralist, wrapping himself in a mantle of culture?