A Gracious Plenty

( 21 )

Overview

#1 New York Times bestselling author Sheri Reynolds delivers an emotionally moving novel of Finch Nobles, a girl severely burned as a child, who later discovers she can hear the voices of the dead.

After sustaining terrible burns from a household accident as a young girl, Finch Nobles refuses the pity of her hometown. The brave and feisty loner finds comfort in visiting her father’s cemetery, where she soon discovers that she can hear the voices of those buried underground. When...

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A Gracious Plenty

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Overview

#1 New York Times bestselling author Sheri Reynolds delivers an emotionally moving novel of Finch Nobles, a girl severely burned as a child, who later discovers she can hear the voices of the dead.

After sustaining terrible burns from a household accident as a young girl, Finch Nobles refuses the pity of her hometown. The brave and feisty loner finds comfort in visiting her father’s cemetery, where she soon discovers that she can hear the voices of those buried underground. When she begins to speak to them, their answers echo around her in a remarkable chorus of regrets, explanations, and insights. A wonderfully wrought amalgam of Steinbeck, Faulkner, Spoon River Anthology, and Our Town, A Gracious Plenty is a masterful tale not soon forgotten.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Ms. Reynolds’s poetic gifts are uncommonly powerful.” —The New York Times

“Reynolds . . . is a gifted writer with a deceptively simple style and a keen ear for dialogue.” —The Boston Globe

“The newest and most exciting voice to emerge in contemporary Southern fiction.” —The San Francisco Bay Guardian

“Reynolds is in top form with these beautifully drawn, flawed characters.” —School Library Journal

“Simple prose rich with subtext, convincing dialogue, and a fascinating protagonist combine to produce a heartstring-plucker that’s explicit, tender, sad, and hopeful.” —Publishers Weekly

New York Times Book Review
Sheri Reynolds is a wonderful storyteller.
Richmond Times Dispatch
An imaginative tour de force..a life-affirming novel that gathers the joy and pain of living into a celebration of what it means to be human.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Character, story and metaphor are skillfully intertwined as bestselling novelist Reynolds (The Rapture of Canaan) again creates a courageous young heroine who triumphs over grueling odds. Severely burned as a child on her face and upper body, narrator Finch Nobles has stuck close to home for most of her life. After the deaths of her parents, she tends the cemetery on her family's land. Since the living shun her (children call her "witch" and "Uhg-leee"), her society is the dead, who speak to her as they perform their afterlife duties: controlling the seasons, cracking the shells of bird eggs, directing the winds and keeping the rivers flowing. Two of the dead emerge as fully developed characters: a young, rebellious beauty queen who fled her mother's control and returned to her home town in a body bag, and a reclusive alcoholic from a wealthy family who became the pet project of the local do-gooder, portrayed in scathing caricature. Though Finch remains the focus of the novel, Reynolds also traces the story of local policeman Leonard Livingston, a disappointment to his father, the mayor. Leonard is sure that his father would have preferred his younger brotherwho died in infancy under circumstances that remain mysterious until the end of the novel. A climactic storm rather betrays the book's realism (even with the active dead), turning the subtle sense of menace into the atmosphere of a contrived, ghostly murder-mystery. But Reynolds's lyricism and the gentle voice of her heroine carry this poignant but redemptive story of an emotionally and physically scarred woman who finds her way out of the land of the dead and into the land of the living. 300,000 first printing. (Sept.)
Entertainment Weekly
Mesmerizing.
NY Times Book Review
Sheri Reynolds is a wonderful storyteller.
Richmond Times Dispatch
An imaginative tour de force...a life-affirming novel that gathers the joy and pain of living into a celebration of what it means to be human.
San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
Raynolds writes with the lyrical power of an inspired preacher.
Kirkus Reviews
Reynolds again hits pay dirt with a third novel, after Bitterroot Landing (1995) and The Rapture of Canaan (1996)—the latter, as everyone knows, a recent selection of Oprah's Book Club and now enjoying its fifth week at the top of the bestseller lists.

As a four-year-old, Finch Nobles pulled boiling water off the stove onto herself; as a result, she's badly scarred, and her appearance makes her a kind of outcast in her small southern town. Her father tended the graveyard, and following his death and her mother's, Finch has inherited the job of gravekeeper, with all its solemn duties. Unsurprisingly, the wise Finch begins welcoming and chatting with the newly planted, whose spirits rise and respond. There's beauty queen Lucy Armour, who escapes the confines of the town but dies mysteriously and is shipped home. Did she commit suicide? There's also William Parker Blott, who left his family, became a filthy, sore-ridden street-bum, but later returned home to money and a mausoleum. As Finch sees it, in a passage that resounds with Francis Phelan's view into his dead son's grave in Ironweed, The Dead possess unique powers and knowledge: "The Dead control the seasons. Everything depends on them. In June, The Dead tunnel earthworms, crack the shells of bird eggs, poke the croaks from frogs. The ones who died children make play of their work, blowing bugs from weed to weed, aerating fields with their cartwheels. They thump the bees and send them out to pollinate gardenias." When The Dead lighten up enough, by learning to let the past go, The Mediator allows them to rise to a level past Finch's knowing. But Marcus, the Mayor's baby, who died of "failure to thrive," can't stop bawling. The slender plot hinges on the story of his death and Finch's loving attempts to free his spirit.

A southern tearjerker with some nice surprises—and likely to be a swift success.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781618580313
  • Publisher: Turner Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 10/2/2012
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 225
  • Sales rank: 365,995
  • Product dimensions: 5.24 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 0.49 (d)

Meet the Author

Sheri Reynolds is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of five novels, including The Rapture of Canaan. She lives in Virginia and teaches at Old Dominion University, where she is the Ruth and Perry Morgan Chair of Southern Literature.

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Read an Excerpt

A Gracious Plenty


By Sheri Reynolds

Turner

Copyright © 2012 Sheri Reynolds
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781618580313

“Ain’t you got no respect for the Dead?” I holler. “Get outta here. Ain’t you got no shame?”

But I’m wasting my breath. The children are running before I open my mouth, squealing and hightailing it around tombstones and trees, racing for the edge of the cemetery. A boy without a shirt dusts his belly on the ground and scrapes his back wiggling fast beneath the fence.

“You hateful old witch,” he cries, but not until he’s in the shrubbery on the other side. “You damn-fool witch.”

I raise my stick and shake it at him.

By the time I get to the plot where they were playing, all that’s left is a striped tank top and a bottle half-full of soda that they were throwing like a ball. They’ve cracked the plastic, and the liquid drizzles out dark. Fizz runs down my arm as I pick it up.

I apologize to Sarah Andrews Barfield, 1897-1949, and wipe the soda off her dingy stone with that child’s shirt. It doesn’t look like rain. Ants will come.

I stuff the shirt through the hole in the fence and then find a brick and a few fallen limbs to block off the space until I can get it patched.

On the way back to the house, I stop to visit with Ma and Papa for a spell. Overhead the wind creaks oak, and beneath me, thick grass bends. Tomorrow I will bring out the lawnmower, but today I catch a nap between them, the way I did when I was small, when their hands were warm and could touch me back.

I have been old all my life, my face like a piece of wood left out in snow and wind.

I was four when it happened. Papa had gone to get the grave diggers and bring them home to eat. He did that sometimes when it was hot and they were busy. Ma didn't mind cooking for a crowd.

But she had that day’s meal fixed and waiting. She was already cutting apples for the next day’s pie, and I was riding the broom in circles around the table.

“You getting too rowdy, Finch,” Ma said. “Calm down.”

“I’m playing circus,” I told her. “I'm a pony rider.”

“You’ve worn that pony out,” she said. “Let him rest.”

So I plopped down on the floor with the broom pony, ran my hand over the bristles, and pretended to rub his mane. Then I decided to get the pony some water. I needed a bowl. Ma had a bowl, but it was full of apples.

“I need a bowl to put some water in. My pony’s thirsty.”

“Give him some apple peels instead,” Ma said. “He'll like that even better.” She was good at playing along.

I was sitting beside the brown paper bag where Ma was dropping the peels. I reached in, grabbed a curled strand of red, and fed it to the pony. Then I looked up and saw the handle of the pot on the stove.

“You still want some water?” I asked the pony, and when he said yes, I reached for the handle of that pot. I reached for the shine.

“Lord, Lizzie,” Papa whispered later, “ain’t right for this child to be widowed by her own skin.”

Ma shivered off oxygen soap, hard and brown, mixed it with honey and flour, and tried to paste my skin back on. She broke aloe fingers and doused my face, my shoulder and arm. She whispered, “I told her to stay away from that stove,” her voice choking out. She brushed my hair away from the places where skin bubbled up.

They thought I was asleep, but I wasn’t. I was dazed and drunk on honey water, lost in the buzzing of the burn. I thought they were washing my hair, but it was just blisters breaking and Ma crying, and water spilling from the cup they held to my mouth. I thought I might wash away.



Continues...

Excerpted from A Gracious Plenty by Sheri Reynolds Copyright © 2012 by Sheri Reynolds. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Reading Group Guide

1. As a child, Finch tries to hide her scarred face, covering it with mud from the river, and often dreams of waking up with a normal face. How do her parents' reactions to her scars affect her own? Why does she say that after her mother dies, "There was nothing left to prove. I could go ahead and admit how ugly I was"? [p.42]

2. Five years before she died, Lucy had legally changed her name from "Lucille Armour" to "Lucy Armageddon." What do the names -- both the one she was born with and the one she adopted -- reflect about her image of herself? What significance do the names of the other characters -- from Finch Nobles to William Blott -- have in the novel?

3. The Mediator who welcomes the newcomers to the cemetery says, "The Dead coax the natural world along. We're responsible for weather and tides and seasons. For rebirth and retribution.... But if you want to know real enlightenment, you've got to lose the weight... We're talking about burdens and secrets..." Does Finch's acceptance of her scars parallel the freedom that comes with the Dead's letting go of secrets and burdens? Is Finch being entirely honest when she says, "You can't hide burn scars and there's no point in trying. I live in a world without secrets."? [p.4]

4. Is Finch's "harassment" of Lucy's mother justifiable? Do the requests of the Dead take precedence over the needs of the living to protect themselves?

5. Is Finch herself guilty of judging people by appearances and superficial behavior, as Lucy suggests [p. 56], not only in regard to her reaction to William Blott's "nursing" the infant Marcus, but also in her treatment of Lois Armour, Leonard Livingston, andReba Baker?

6. Finch says, "You can look at a scar and see hurt or you can look at a scar and seeing healing." [p. 66]. How does Finch regard her own scars? Do Lucy's scars, the results of self-inflicted wounds, represent hurt or healing?

7. When the group of teenage girls misbehaves in the cemetery [p. 77], Finch initially reacts with anger but starts to enjoy the encounter as she relates the stories of the people buried in various graves. Why do the stories make the girls less fearful? How does the incident mark a change in Finch's attitudes toward the living?

8. When Finch and Leonard investigate William Blott's property, they stand in front of a mirror wearing some of his belongings. What effect does the mirror image have on Finch's feelings about Leonard? Does the image reveal a different reality to Finch about herself as well?

9. Why is Finch excluded from the activities of the Dead when she brings Lucy the flowers Leonard gave her? [p.106]. Why does the purity of William's music make her feel further estranged? How does the evening signal a change in Finch's understanding of her relationship with the Dead?

10. When Finch asks for Leonard's father as a lawyer when she is arrested for harassing Lucy's mother, Mr. Livingston immediately begins denigrating his son. What do his actions tell you about the scars Leonard bears? Are they as damaging as the scars Finch has had to cope with?

11. When Reba Baker declares Finch her "next project, " she says that the Adult Women's Sunday School Class is determined to stop Finch from driving Lois Armour crazy. How does Reba's portrait of Lois [p. 140] differ from Lucy's? Judging from Finch's report to Lucy on her conversation with Lois [p. 146-7], is either description more authentic than the other? Is it important for Lois to admit that Lucy killed herself or will it destroy Lois's sanity?

12. As William conjures up the storm to avenge the desecration of his grave, Finch's father and the Mediator warn Finch to leave the cemetery. Why is Finch so reluctant to go, even though the cemetery feels like a strange place to her for the first time in her life? What does she mean when she says [p. 155] "The place is a map, and it's a map of me somehow"?

13. How accurate is Leonard's accusation that Finch cut herself off from people because she feared they would mistreat her?[p. 169] Does her isolation and her often provocative behavior belie her constant declarations that she fully accepts her disfigurement?

14. In The Rapture of Canaan, Reynolds explored the impact of an unforgiving religion on Ninah, a young girl raised in a strict Pentecostal community. In A Gracious Plenty, Finch's life is just as dramatically shaped by a terrible childhood accident. What are the similarities and differences between the spiritual isolation Ninah experiences when she defied the rules of her church and the physical isolation Finch chooses for herself?

15. Throughout the novel, the Dead display all the characteristics of the living -- they whine, they argue, they express anger and seethe with jealousy and resentment. Did this vision of life after death disturb you? Can you reconcile Reynolds's description with more traditional religious views?

16. Through stories of her own past, Ninah's grandmother in The Rapture of Canaan taught her that moral ambiguities are a natural part of life. What lessons does Finch learn from Lucy's stories about her wayward life and from Lois's secret admiration for it? How does William Blott's life as a cross-dresser -- and Reba's ultimate ability to overcome her hatred for "queers" and scrub the graffiti off his grave -- influence the decisions Finch faces at the end of the novel?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 21 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 22 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2001

    Not terribly exciting, but I still loved it

    a sweet, calm book. It wasn't rich with plot, yet I found myself immersed into it. It wasn't heavy or tension causing, but it made me think. It was leisurely, there was no pressure for it to become exciting. It was calm without being boring. It takes a talented writer to create this effect.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2013

    I was blown away.

    This book was absolutely marvelous. It tells of life on both sides of death. It is a book that cuts deep and leaves scars in your mind that you never want to forget.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2013

    Anon

    Great book.

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  • Posted September 28, 2012

    Great Writing

    This author has a style I can't seem to get enough of. Simple and elegant, the writing takes you in, holds you close, and leaves you with more than you started with.

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  • Posted February 7, 2012

    WOW!

    I LOVED THIS BOOK! I couldn't wait to read it, I couldn't put it down and hated for it to end. Marvelous,lyrical, superb writing. Now, one of my all time favorites - right up there with David Wroblewski's "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle". Read it and you will fall in love with Sheri Reynolds exceptional story telling ability.
    -Sonny Marrufo

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  • Posted September 21, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I'll read this one again

    Finch is the caretaker of a cemetery and she talks with the spirits of those who are buried there. She was badly disfigured when she was burned as a child by pulling a pot off the stove and spilling its contents onto herself.
    Her mother never forgave herself and died ten years later.
    Finch was teased at school and became a loner. One person remained friendly with her. He was a former classmate and is now a police officer. He often stops by the cemetery to check on Finch.
    She grows vegetables which the local store refuses to sell, but a vegetable man buys from her and resells her goods to the store.
    The occupants of the cemetery must stay there until they become lightened, having worked through issues of their past lives. Then their voices begin to fade as they move on to a higher plane.
    This book is too good to explain in a few words and is one that I will probably want to read again. (I rarely read a book more than once.)
    From the back cover: "Badly burned in a household accident when she was a child, Finch Nobles grows into a courageous and feisty loner who eschews the pity of her hometown and discovers that she can hear the voices of the people buried in her father's cemetery. Finally, when she speaks to them, they answer, telling their stories in a remarkable chorus of regrets, explanations, and insights. A Gracious Plenty is like an extraordinary amalgam of Steinbeck and Faulkner. It is a reading experience that you will not soon forget."
    I'm still not sure if Finch invented the friends in the cemetery to replace the friends she never had, or if they were real. It really doesn't matter because it's a wonderful tale either way.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2006

    Very affecting

    I read this book over 3 years ago, but I would still count it as one of my favorites. A really moving story, and I disagree with anyone who says they can't get into the story or feel for the characters.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2006

    WOW!!!

    I absolutely loved this book. What a truely symbolic story. At first, I wasn't sure of Finch and her talking to the dead. But this was truely a 'becoming of the living' venture for Finch. I highly reccommend it! Made for GREAT book club discussion!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2005

    Not so hot

    In fact, I'd say this one was a big of a stinker. The author seemed to be caught up in the idea of this scarred woman acting as a bridge between the dead and the living, but I really couldn't have cared less about any of the characters. I guess I'm just not into these 'women's writers'--I just tossed the first Maeve Binchy novel I ever attempted to read, *Quentins*, and you couldn't pay me enough to read something titled *Patty Jane's House of Curl* or *Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons*. I kind of put this one in the same genre.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 30, 2004

    page turner

    I didn't expect to fall so helplessly into this book, but the unique story and inspiring main character wouldn't let me put it down. A beautiful story of the living and the dead.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2004

    Rich Characters, Easy Read

    Finch, a young disfigured girl, is the caretaker of a local cemetery. As she attends to needs of the cemetery she converses with the dead who must tell their story before fully departing the earthly realm. It is through these stories that the recently departed and Finch both gain understanding and healing. By the end of the story, the cemetery caretaker is much better equipped to accept and join the world of the living once again. Similarly the dead, having told their story and unburdened their souls, are free to depart to their next life. A truly wonderful book full of rich characters. It can be read simply for pleasure, but can be enjoyed at a deeper level, offering much enrichment. Highly recommend! Great for discussion groups.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2003

    Okay Read, Not Exciting

    This is my first book by the author. Ms Reynolds has a nice style of writing her; descriptions are great. But I was bored wiht the overall plot of the book...a sad disfigured yong woman talking to dead people/ghosts did nothing for me. I thought the conclusion of this book could have been better.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2001

    Sheri Reynolds is an amazing Author.

    So far I have read all of Sheri Reynolds books and they are excellent. They keep my interest through out the book. I cant wait for her next book to come out. Hopefully it will be soon.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2001

    Touching and down to earth!!

    I love how Finch was so completely honest to herself about the predictiment that life handed her. I also enjoyed the way the characters needed each other-- the dead and the living. The resolve that the characters seem to find at the close of this novel, about their faults as well as the shortcomings of others is very touching. This book seemed effortless to read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2001

    Not Impressed

    I read this book because I LOVED 'The Rapture of Canaan', another Reynolds creation. I admit this book is well-written, but it was a little too 'fantastic' for me. I never made a connection with Finch, and felt this story kept me at a distance. I didn't feel the emotions that Reynolds was trying to relate to the readers.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2001

    Wonderful Story!

    Because Finch Nobles has a badly burned face, she is a self made social outcast. However, she has a gift of communicating with the departed. Her communications with the dead and her interpretions of the cemetery will not allow me to forget this book when I visit a cemetary. Finch makes it easy to understand ghosts, and spirits. A very delightful book. This is one I will read again.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2000

    a gracious plenty

    Sheri Reynolds developes a logical realm where the dead start out as heavy souls and must tell their tale to lighten. Once they have lightened- it is not clear what becomes of them. It¿s nice that you have no idea if the next stage is heaven or reincarnation or anything else. The idea that the dead do stick around for awhile explains ghosts so well, since religion dosnt seem to encompass the idea of them. Tha main character, Finch Nobles, who has a badly burned face and is a self made social outcast, somehow has trianed her eyes to see this other realm. The book is so convincing that its really hard to believe now that the dead dont go throught this stage. It makes death into something hard to fear.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2000

    A Gracious Plenty

    I read this book about ten times and it never gets old. It's a wonderfully written book and I can't seem to get enough of it. I am also doing an author study for school and we had to read at least 2 books by one author and I chose to read this and The Rapture Of Canaan. I'm not sure if it can compare to this beautifully written novel by a truly remarkable author, Sheri Reynolds.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 22 Customer Reviews

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