Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Darnell Arnoult writes about a people and a place from deep in her heart. She breathes life into her material, drawing us into her world, a world we do not want to leave at book's end. Sufficient Grace is Flannery O'Connor possessed by Emeril, laced with canny observations about the sweetness and alienation that is family. If I were to tell you everything that's humane, witty, smart, touching, captivating in this book, I would be hoarse."-- Judy Goldman, author of Early Leaving
examines both the nature of love and kinds of nurture we all hunger for. Arnoult invites us to a feast of love, a kind of communion. Each swift and telling scene is like a brushstroke in an impressionistic painting which shimmers with the light of revelation."
-- Lee Smith, author of The Last Girls
is both a blessing and a relief. It's a relief to read a novel about the deepest truths women share, which has everything to do with courage and dignity. It is also a blessing to be shown the inner core of our hearts by someone who knows us so well."
-- Kaye Gibbons, author of Ellen Foster
is the loving portrait of two families, one black and one white, their paths entwined by a woman who has lost her way in the world. In an unforgettable debut, Darnell Arnoult writes with a luminous energy that shines light in the intricacies of madness and of compassion. It is easy and satisfying to sink into the folds of this story told with humor, wisdom, and wonderful food."
-- Lynn York, author of The Piano Teacher
"Sufficient Grace is a showcase of memorable characters and Southern storytelling at its finest. It also speaks to the theme of art and how it comes to life through the generations that feed into the life and history of the artist. An accomplished, moving novel, it marks the beginning of what I hope will be a long and productive career."-- Jill McCorkle, author of Crash Diet
is a winner -- a bountiful, blessed tale, alive with insight, warmth, and humor. As many in the large cast of racially and age diverse characters in this satisfying, well-plotted story are brought from disappointment, madness, loss, and sometimes despair into connection, love, and art, the reader will want to cheer them and the author. Arnoult proves with this debut novel that she is an amazing storyteller who is going places."
-- Isabel Zuber, author of Salt
"Darnell Arnoult gently slips her characters under the microscope, pulls out the hidden, examines the known and unknown, and allows the reader to connect to the love, loss, sadness, and comedic aspects that are within us all."-- Grace F. Edwards, author of the Mali Anderson series
"Darnell Arnoult's Sufficient Grace reminds me of Harriett Arnow's The Dollmaker and Lee Smith's Fair and Tender Ladies. It's a big story full of just about everything: good food, history, religion, medicine, family, and fun. It's too good to have come from a new kid on the block, but it has and it will be read and loved by many, many readers."-- Clyde Edgerton, author of In Memory of Junior
"Darnell Arnoult gently slips her characters under the microscope, pulls out the hidden, examines the known and unknown, and allows the reader to connect to the love, loss, sadness, and comedic aspects that are within us all."
-- Grace F. Edwards, author of the Mali Anderson series
This spellbinding debut novel explores the power of personal transformation and redemption, and the many extraordinary ways they come to pass.
Gracie Hollaman hears voices in her head that tell her to get in a car and leave her entire life behind. On her journey, she meets Mama Toot and Mattie, while at home her husband Ed struggles to begin a new life for himself. Arnoult's debut novel explores the power of personal transformation and redemption--and the many extraordinary ways they come to pass.
Table of Contents
Reading Group Guide
Sufficient Grace By Darnell Arnoult: Reading Group Discussion Guide
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 will effect 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 comes to terms with their loss, both worlds slowly and inevitably collide.
1. How would you characterize the voices that Gracie Hollaman hears as she prepares to leave her home forever? What do these voices suggest about Gracie's mental state, and in what ways do they connect to a religious framework?
2. "People say men have midlife crises, but it's the women." Why does Ed Hollaman initially interpret Gracie's disappearance as her abandonment of him? What does his reaction to her absence suggest about the nature of their marriage and their feelings for each another?
3. When Mattie Riley discovers Gracie Hollaman lying on Arty's grave, why does she see it as some kind of divine signal? How does Mattie's grief over her husband's untimely death affect her decision to take Gracie into her home?
4. How does Gracie's disappearance from their home improve Ed's life? What changes in his character and day-to-day existence seem especially dramatic or interesting? Given the uncertain circumstances of his marriage, to what extent are his feelings for Parva Wilson understandable?
5. In what ways is Mama Toot the "glue" that holds her family together? What explains Toot's delay in recognizing "Rachel" as the grown-up little girl, Gracie, whom she took care of so many years before? How does she make sense of Gracie's reappearance in her life?
6. How would you describe Ginger's reaction to her mother's schizophrenia? Why do you think that she fears for her own mental instability? What do you think of her boyfriend, Wally, and the prospects for their relationship?
7. In what ways do the characters experience the presence of Arty in the novel? Do you think he is really present? Why or why not?
8. Do you feel Mattie must choose between her grief over Arty's death and her burgeoning feelings for Noris Dibner? Why or why not? Why do you think the author chose to conclude the novel before Mattie reaches closure with Arty's death and fully embraces her romantic interest in Norvis?
9. Why are Ed Hollman and Mama Toot content with Gracie's desire to change her name to Rachel, divorce Ed, and return to live with the Riley family? How does Gracie's decision have an impact on both families?
10. Besides the close look at Ed and Gracie's relationship, in what other ways does the novel seem to address the idea of love and marriage?
11. How does the novel explore the concept of mothering? What about mother/daughter relationships in particular? What about the definition of family?
12. What is the significance of Tyrone's great-grandmother's prediction for his future? In what ways does the prediction come true?
13. We know Gracie becomes obsessed with closing the circle of her story with Ed. Where else do you see circles at play in the novel?
14. "They have been raised up to believe anything of God, to believe He can say your time is out no matter who loves you or how much." What role does faith play in the Riley family? To what extent does it play an important role for the Hollaman family?
15. Sister Reba and Gracie both feel "called" to make some of the same decisions. They both leave their families for a different, nontraditional life, a life with a focus they believe is defined by something beyond their own desires, even by God. They both retreat to the woods at times. Can you think of other common ground shared by Reba and Gracie? Why are these similarities viewed differently from one character to the other?
16. On a larger scale, how do you interpret the issues of faith and fate in the novel? Of miracles and coincidence? Of the thin gray line between a passionate, inspired calling and bona fide illness?
17. Why is food so important in Sufficient Grace? What does cooking represent to Mattie Riley? What does it symbolize for Ed Hollaman? What significance does it hold for the time frame of the novel? How does Sister Reba's sermon on leftovers apply throughout the book? How did the sensory descriptions of cooking and eating in Sufficient Grace affect your reading experience?
18. How did you interpret the title of the novel? In what way does the religious concept sufficient grace relate to events in the book?
19. Which character(s) in Sufficient Grace did you most identify with and why? Who is your favorite character and why? Do you think that there is a single "hero" or "heroine" in this novel? Why or why not?