Synopses & Reviews
In the lush and isolated cemetery of a small Southern town, Finch Nobles, the narrator of this brilliantly inventive novel, tends to the flowers and shrubs that surround the monuments of people who were not known to her while they lived but who in death have become her lifeline.
Badly burned in a household accident when she was just four, Finch grows into a courageous and feisty loner. She eschews the pity and awkward stares of the people of her hometown and discovers that if she listens closely enough, she can hear the voices of those who have gone before. Finally, when she speaks, they answer back, telling their stories in a remarkable chorus of regrets, explanations, and insights. But the infant Marcus, son of the town's mayor, died before he learned to speak and can only wail away the hours. The roots of his anguish are revealed in a crescendo of lasting resonance that ties together the outcast Finch, her dead friends, and the living community outside the cemetery's gates.
With prose that is spare, yet richly poetic, Sheri Reynolds creates a vision of a world that is at once fantastic and palpably real. She teaches us that neither our capacity to suffer nor our ability to be healed ends with the grave--and that love is all we have. A Gracious Plenty is a reading experience you will not soon forget.
"A triumph of story, voice, and character. The afflicted and unforgettable Finch, whose longings inspire in equal measure love and awe and pity, who seeks to understand the difference between the kind of suffering brought upon us and the kind we bring upon ourselves, defies mortality. Stunning and authentic . . . this is a beautiful book."
--Janet Peery, author of The River Beyond the World
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, expla-nations, and insights. A Gracious Plenty is like an extraordinary amalgam of Steinbeck and Faulkner, Spoon River Anthology and Our Town. It is a reading experience that you will not soon forget.
About the Author
Sheri Reynolds teaches writing and literature at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. Her previous novels are Bitterroot Landing and The Rapture of Canaan.
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, and Reba 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?