A Gracious Plenty

A Gracious Plenty

by Sheri Reynolds

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781618580313
Publisher: Turner Publishing Company
Publication date: 10/02/2012
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 225
Sales rank: 851,357
Product dimensions: 5.24(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.49(d)

About 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.

Read an Excerpt

A Gracious Plenty

By Sheri Reynolds


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.


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.

What People are Saying About This

Janet Peery

A triumph of story, voice, and character...stunning and authentic....A beautiful book.
— Author of The River Beyond the World

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

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?

Customer Reviews

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Gracious Plenty 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 29 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous 12 days ago
Story kept my interest to the end.
artistlibrarian on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I picked this up after thoroughly enjoying Reynolds' The Rapture of Canaan and a second novel as strong as this proves she's a solid writer.Finch Nobles is the ideal cemetery groundskeeper with her badly burned face and neck and courageous spinster attitude. She is able to hear the dead and learn of the angst, heartache, and unforgiveness that has followed them to their graves. Acting as a mouthpiece for the newly dead, Finch learns to better understand the living.A short and sweet read that is energetic and fulfilling in its mission as a novel: to entertain and to teach.
jessicastatzer on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I'm a real fan of author Sheri Reynold's contemporary southern style and a real fan of this book. I'm amazed at Ms. Reynold's ability to make this book both a quick easy read and thought provoking at the same time. I can really relate with her characters' struggles with sin and religion, a common theme in her works.The main character Finch Noble was badly burned as a child and lives out her days tending her family's cemetary and interacting with the restless spirits that live there. Finch helps the spirits of the dead come to terms with the secrets of their past lives that keep them "to heavy" to move on. In turn, they become her family and help to fill voids of her life.
eleanorigby on LibraryThing 8 months ago
A moving book about growth and the significance of death.
NewsieQ on LibraryThing 8 months ago
One of my all-time favorites!
PatriciaUttaro on LibraryThing 10 months ago
A Gracious Plenty by Sheri Reynolds - I love storytelling. I am not a storyteller in the sense that I get up in front of groups of people and tell memorized, rehearsed stories, but I have been known to spin a yarn or two among friends. And I truly appreciate the skill it takes to tell a story as rich as this one. Finch Nobles is a caretaker of the dead, literally and figuratively. She tends the grounds of the cemetery in her town, but she also tends the souls of those people buried there. Finch is feared by the locals, mostly due to her disfigurement from a burn suffered when she was a child, but also because of her "I don't give a damn" attitude. However, both obstacles are overcome by her relationships with the spiritual inhabitants of the cemetery and the live people who visit them. Reynolds weaves a gentle but riveting tale of love, hate and redemption that stretches the veil between the living and the dead. This is one I'll remember for a long time...
CalicoGirl on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Finch Nobles tends to the flowers and shrubs surrounding an isolated cemetery in a small Southern town. Finch, who was badly burned at the age of 4, is a loner. She discovers she can hear the voices of those buried in her cemetery. Through her narrative we learn the regrets, explanations and insights of the dead. When the residents of Nobles cemetery first arrive, their spirits are heavy; unable to move about freely. It is through the telling of their stories that they 'lighten and fade away'. Don't search this novel for any type of Christian theology. You won't find it. Don't pick apart the visions of the afterlife we are shown. Just enjoy a good story about a woman who learns from the dead how to thrive in the world of the living.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Miss_Katy More than 1 year ago
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.
SonnyEDRN More than 1 year ago
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
gaylelin More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.