A Gracious Plenty
Sheri Reynolds
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Buy *A Gracious Plenty* online A Gracious Plenty
Sheri Reynolds
Three Rivers Press
208 pages
March 1999
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Sheri Reynolds was catapulted to widespread attention when Oprah Winfrey chose The Rapture of Canaan as one of her book club titles. Reynolds, who teaches writing and literature at the university level, followed up The Rapture of Canaan with the magical little novel A Gracious Plenty. With the name recognition resulting from Oprah's publicity, perhaps Reynolds can become and remain a worthy mainstay of the literary fiction world today.

Curled Up With a Good BookFinch Nobles suffered third-degree burns about her face and shoulders as a toddler when she pulled a pot of boiling water off her mother's stove. She survived, and healed enough physically to go on living, but the psychological scars from the event and its aftermath still burn. The daughter of cemetery caretakers, Finch continues her parents' work after their deaths. Finch becomes a fixture in her little Southern hometown, an eccentric, stubborn outcast.

Since her early teens, Finch has been able to talk to and see the spirits of the dead populating her graveyard. The dead who have yet to completely "lighten" and ascend are responsible for keeping the world running. They color growing plants, they bring rain, they tickle the flowers to surprise them open. Finch tends the graveyard lovingly, planting real flowers on the graves and planting trees to shade the departed. She develops a friendship with a young dead beauty queen whose mission is to force her mother to acknowledge that her death was not a murder but suicide. Lucy Armageddon, as this young woman has renamed herself, asks Finch to urge her mother toward that realization. So Finch mouths the word "suicide" to Lucy's mother whenever they see each other, otherwise going about her business growing incredible vegetables, tending graves and sleeping with a veritable army of half-wild cats. The town children tease Finch cruelly by calling names and by vandalizing the cemetery, but Finch just keeps on with her life, alone and friendless in the world of the living.

Lucy's mother finally makes a complaint to the local police and is granted a restraining order. The order is served by Leonard Livingston, the grown, disappointing son of the mayor. Leonard and Finch's history goes all the way back to first grade, when Leonard burst into tears at the sight of Finch's untimely wizened face and got moved to a different seat. Leonard's baby brother, the mayor's great hope, lies buried inside the cemetery gates, where he cries without ceasing, unable to tell his story and so unable to lighten and ascend. Finch and Leonard start to forge a tentative truce, although Leonard refuses to believe that Finch truly speaks with the dead.

The most recent member of the cemetery community is William Blott, a reticent man whose permanently transient lifestyle prompted the local women's Sunday School class to make him their project. William is at first reluctant to speak, but he becomes immediately popular among the dead of Nobles Hill when he reveals a unique ability to quiet the squalling Livingston baby. As William reveals more of himself, a discovery by the church women to whom his property was bequeathed results in a complete reversal by the town toward his memory. Finch's life becomes focussed on repairing the rifts between the living and the dead of her community. As she moves toward a tentative acceptance by and of the living, she risks losing her relationship with the dead that has moored her almost all of her life.

Finch Nobles is immensely likable, her voice a gruff and stubborn one that masks the longing and insecurity hidden inside. A Gracious Plenty lures the reader quickly into the story, and refuses to release its hold on your imagination until you've read it through. This novel of eccentricity and inner beauty transcends the way we often categorize both the living and the dead. Sheri Reynolds shows rare talent and inventiveness, and deserves every bit of attention she gets.

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