Sufficient Grace: A Novel

Sufficient Grace: A Novel

3.6 12
by Darnell Arnoult

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One quiet spring day, Gracie Hollaman hears voices in her head that tell her to get in her car and leave her entire life behind -- her home, her husband, her daughter, her very identity. Gracie's subsequent journey releases her genius for painting and effects profound changes in the lives of everyone around her. Ultimately, her quest leads her into the home of Mama… See more details below


One quiet spring day, Gracie Hollaman hears voices in her head that tell her to get in her car and leave her entire life behind -- her home, her husband, her daughter, her very identity. Gracie's subsequent journey releases her genius for painting and effects profound changes in the lives of everyone around her. Ultimately, her quest leads her into the home of Mama Toot and Mattie, two strong, accomplished women going through life changes of their own. As the bonds between these women grow stronger, and the family Gracie left behind come to terms with their own loss, both worlds slowly and inevitably collide, revealing a long-buried secret that they share.

A spellbinding debut novel, Sufficient Grace explores the power of personal transformation and redemption, and the many ordinary and extraordinary ways they come to pass through faith, love, motherhood, art, even food. Even though we sometimes have to leave behind an old identity in order to discover our soul, this poignant, poetic study of the human condition affirms the enduring importance of relationships and the strength we derive from them.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In her moving debut novel, Arnoult chronicles a Southern middle-aged wife and mother's descent into schizophrenia and the two families-one white, one black-transformed by her. When Gracie Hollaman goes missing, her husband, Ed, is convinced she's left him-but in fact, Gracie has left herself, at the behest of disembodied voices, for a hallucinatory world "[i]n the narrow space between what is real and what is not." Gracie wanders into the small African-American town of Rockrun and is taken into the bustling household of Mama Toot and Mattie, a mother and her widowed daughter-in-law beset by grief. Compulsive and adamant, Gracie clings to painting rituals and the voices in her head, defying her family's attempts to reclaim her after Toot tracks them down: " `My circle's closing. I need to be the ex-wife.' " The circle Gracie refers to finds expression throughout the book-one circle must be closed before another can begin-as each character learns how to say good-bye to her old life and begin anew. In brisk scenes, Arnoult's rhythmic prose beautifully reveals the human potential for unconditional love and faith, and wholly convinces us-despite the heartache her mental illness causes-of Gracie's essential wisdom and worthiness. (June) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Quirky, sympathetic characters propel this finely hewn first novel by Tennessee poet and journalist Arnoult. The author brings together two very different Southern families when white, 50-year-old Gracie Hollaman hears voices and believes Jesus is directing her to leave her middle-class North Carolina home and make her way to Rockrun, Va., the home of her African-American nanny from childhood, Tootsie Mae. Toot and her widowed daughter-in-law Mattie find Gracie unconscious on the grave of Toot's son Arty. Though she doesn't initially recognize her former charge, Toot takes her discovery as a sign from heaven and gives the strange woman the biblical name Rachel. Meanwhile, Gracie's husband Ed, until now scarcely able to cope without his wife to make him deviled eggs, learns to cook rather spectacularly over her many months' absence by watching Chef Bernard on TV. Furious, blameful daughter Ginger opens her own Dixie Donut business and can't fathom why her mother would desert them. In Rockrun, Gracie develops her talent at painting religious scenes on impermanent materials such as car parts. But when Toot finally identifies Gracie from a birthmark, she has to be officially hospitalized and the relatives informed of her whereabouts. We learn from Toot's conversation with the local sheriff that when Gracie was eight, her father committed suicide and her mentally ill mother was sent to a sanitarium. Arnoult knows that her characters take deadly seriously their Christian visions, inner voices, biblical passages and hometown reverend. Her colloquial narrative constantly shifts points of view and skates a fine line between irony and endorsement-or is it proselytizing? Her characters demonstratetremendous grit, especially passionate, hard-edged Toot and once-pitiable Ed, whose growing self-knowledge allows him to minister to the loveless spinster saleswoman of his dreams, Parva Wilson. Ultimately, everyone rushes toward a triumphant spiritual transformation. Deeply felt, though the author's Christian message is sometimes heavy-handed.

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Atria Books
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Chapter One

Gracie found the church fans in Martelli's Trash and Treasure on Manchester Boulevard. They stuck up out of a brass spittoon like a clutch of flowers. Take up the fan, a voice whispered. She turned around, but no one was there. Take up the fan, the voice said again, this time a little louder. At first she was uneasy. She listened for a full minute and heard nothing. She touched an edge of one of the dusty cardboard pictures. Take the lot of them, the voice said. We can use them all. She brought the fans home and hid them in the top of the coat closet and waited. She waited for over a month and a half. When the voice spoke again she was relieved. Draw the body of Jesus, the voice said. Draw the body of Jesus, it insisted. Draw it larger than life. The voice has since become a comfort.

Gracie stands on a step stool, a broad plastic rectangle of cream-colored Rubbermaid plastic. Her copper-red hair is twirled and knotted at the nape of her neck, the way she always wears it when she is working. She is still a slight woman at middle age, still has elegant limbs, radiant skin, but now her body carries the artful curves that so often come with menopause. What was once hard muscle is now fleshy solidness.

In her left hand Gracie holds a Wilcox Funeral Home fan with Jesus printed on it. Jesus wears white and red robes and his hands are extended, as if offering sanctuary. In her right hand Gracie holds a newly sharpened standard yellow number-two pencil with an unused eraser at the top.

She stretches her arm as far as she can toward the crown molding and draws the first light strokes of hair. With those first feathery lines she begins what will become a larger-than-life-size Jesus on the bedroom wall, the wall at the foot of the bed. Ed can see it every morning when he wakes up and every night before he pulls the chain to turn out the lamp. Jesus will have to watch over Ed because she won't be there to do it. As she stands on the stool softly striking the pencil lead against the freshly dried white latex paint, Gracie asks Jesus to look after her, too, to give her the gift of art so that she might do Him justice. She will take the fans with her. Leave the big Jesuses for Ed.

Ed needs volume. You need portability, says a voice.

She sketches Jesus' jaw line, then begins the eyes. Their intensity, the way they first pierced her with their compassion, is hard to translate onto the Sheetrock wall, but then she feels a tremble go through her body, that jellylike shock that happens when you touch something electrical and ungrounded. Gracie jerks slightly to the left, catches her balance with her pencil hand extended. The eyes improve with a few short strokes of the pencil and take on a vision of their own. Gracie knows the unfinished Jesus is watching her.

The top and sides of His hair take shape. Gracie draws His beard and His mouth. The upper lip is almost invisible. The rounded bottom lip curls out as if to speak. She listens. Nothing. She draws His nose, His cheekbones, the lobe of each ear. She moves as she draws. A line here, smudge there. High. Low. The image pulses forth with her heartbeat. Locks of His long hair fall to His shoulders and keep her from having to draw the ears in their entirety -- a blessing. Ears are the hardest things to draw next to hands and feet.

A breeze blows through the open window and Gracie glances out to see the daffodils in bloom along the driveway. Their heads already bend toward the ground. The bright flowers have burst forth in an unseasonably warm February; now, so close to Easter, they will soon be spent. Dashes of yellow fleck the bare woods and leaf-covered ground up to twenty or so yards from the driveway, then raggedly trail off into a buffer of trees between the house and a small city park. The sky is overcast. The gray light makes the waning daffodils appear translucent. Gracie decides to draw daffodils at Jesus' feet.

Ed wasn't pleased when she painted just three walls white in the whole house. "Why not all the walls?" he said. "Why random walls?" She didn't tell him she was making canvases. It wasn't going to help, so she didn't bother. He wants a room all one color. He has become so boring, so shortsighted, so out of touch.

By lunchtime she hopes to have Jesus drawn on all of the white walls: Jesus with open arms in the bedroom, Jesus praying in the garden at Gethsemane in the kitchen over the sideboard, Jesus knocking in the foyer on the white wall beside the front door. She has a fan to go by for each drawing, a full package of sharpened number-two pencils, and a fat white eraser for mistakes and shading, at His cheekbones for example. She never noticed before how high and sharp His cheekbones are.

Gracie is pleased with the drawing of Jesus with open hands. Good proportion, accurate perspective, the illusion of three dimensions. Her childhood art lessons flood back to her. She remembers that young art teacher she had in college. She puts off drawing the hands. She shades the hair around His ears, then steps down to have a sip of iced tea. The stool slips on the hardwood floor as she dismounts, and she lands with a little jump, her hand reaching for the pine cone-topped bedpost just behind her. The bed was her Aunt Claire Bailey's on her mother's side. Aunt Claire never married.

Gracie bends to draw the hems of the robes and notices the baseboards are dirty. She doesn't want dirty baseboards to take away from her drawings. She'll make time to wash them before she leaves.

His sandaled feet are easy. Only the tips of His toes protrude from the ripples in the full hemline. She shades the sandals with the side of the pencil lead. She finesses the toenails, tries to make up for the lack of visible feet by doing a particularly good job on the tips of His toes. She sharpens the pencil to get that crisp edge of the nails as they curve over at the sides and tuck into the flesh.

The feet of Christ, the voice says. You are at the feet of Christ. Silence. Now, the hands.

Gracie ignores the voice at first. She stands up straight and shades the folds of His sleeves. She widens His lips. It occurs to her that she has never seen a picture of Jesus laughing. She will draw a laughing Jesus when she's had more practice, when she's good enough to draw without a picture to go by. She climbs back onto the stool and adjusts the outer edge of one eye. She uses the eraser to soften some of the lines, to fill in the darker quality of His lips. Gracie fine-tunes everything until there is nothing left to do but the hands.

She looks at the fan for guidance, but the illustrator has taken the easy road, made the hands generic. She wants the palms and fingers of Jesus to be as detailed and perfectly drawn as the tips of His toes. But she was never good at drawing hands. The fingers never looked right. Gracie makes several attempts, then the voice says, Look at your own hands, Gracie. And she does. Gracie looks at her own hands and sees the hands of Jesus.

She moves the dressing mirror closer to her so she can get the right perspective. She begins to draw each wrinkle, each fold, each bend. She takes off her wedding ring and tosses it onto the bed. She extends her hands as if calling all those who need God to come to her. She looks at the way her hands drape down from her wrists, the way her fingers extend and curve back.

When she finishes the drawing, she collects the stool, the pencils, and the eraser. She walks across the room to the doorway and turns to look back at the completed Christ figure. Gracie realizes with joy that it is the best pair of hands she has ever done.

Copyright © 2006 by Darnell Arnoult

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