Sheri Reynolds

A Gracious Plenty

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A Gracious Plenty Summary

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A Gracious Plenty (1997), Sheri Reynolds’s contemporary novel with elements of magical realism, tells the story of a woman who finds her very unusual place in the world after almost dying in a house fire as a child. A bestseller, critics say the book is a perfect balance between Steinbeck and Faulkner; the book is popular today with fans of Southern fiction. Reynolds teaches creative writing and serves as the Ruth and Perry Morgan Chair of Southern Literature at Old Dominion University.

The main character, Finch Nobles, suffers serious facial disfiguration, the result of a childhood accident; she is embarrassed by how she looks. When she was a toddler, she pulled a pot of boiling water down from her mother’s kitchen stove. The water scalded her face and shoulders, giving her third-degree burns. The scars remain until this day.

As Finch gets older, local kids pick on her because of how she looks; she has few friends. Although she is used to people staring and whispering behind her back, she never gets used to the loneliness. To handle the bullying and the teasing, she withdraws into herself; her only companions are her parents.

Finch’s parents are cemetery caretakers. Growing up surrounded by death, Finch often contemplates the meaning of life. She spends a lot of time wandering around the graveyard pretending she can talk to the deceased. One day, however, she realizes that she is not pretending—she really can communicate with the dead. This frightens her for a while, but she soon embraces her gift.

Finch learns that the dead who haven’t yet found peace are responsible for keeping the world running. They keep the plants blossoming, the rain falling, and the grass green. Wishing that the dead could simply find peace, Finch tries to help the ghosts cross over. Her efforts are met with varying success throughout the novel.

Finch’s parents pass away at the beginning of the book. By this time, Finch is an older woman. She doesn’t have any career prospects and doesn’t want to leave her family home or her parents’ legacy, behind. She assumes their role of caretaker and looks after the family estate.

With no one else to talk to, Finch visits her parents’ graves every day, tending their gravesites faithfully. She wishes they would speak to her, but she cannot hear them. Her wish soon comes true. Finch is minding her own business, tending to the graves as usual, when her dead father starts talking to her. She is terrified at first, because she doesn’t believe what she’s hearing, but she soon realizes that it’s real.

Finch is determined to help her father find peace. She wonders if any of the other ghosts can help her. She soon befriends a young ghost who calls herself Lucy Armageddon. She’s the ghost of a dead beauty queen whom everyone believes committed suicide. Lucy, however, wants everyone to know that someone murdered her. Finch vows to get justice for Lucy, but when she tries to tell Lucy’s mother what happened to her daughter, she is vilified.

Lucy’s mother gets a restraining order even though Finch doesn’t normally leave the graveyard. The police officer who serves the order is terrified of Finch; he wishes she would stop telling people that she talks to the dead. The police officer’s younger brother, who is deceased, wants to talk to him, but Finch can’t convince him to listen. This upsets Finch who knows that the young man can’t find peace until his family hears his story.

Meanwhile, Lucy isn’t any closer to finding peace for her own father. The police officer stops by frequently and they soon strike up a friendship; he indulges her ghost talk. The more Finch learns about the ghosts, and the more she tells the policeman, the more she understands that her life’s mission is healing the community from beyond the grave. By repairing relationships between the deceased and their living relatives and neighbors, Finch can help the community flourish.

Since Lucy’s mother won’t listen to her, Finch focuses on others from the community who want messages passed on to the living. She encourages them to forgive each other and some ghosts do find peace. Finch misses these ghosts, but she knows that they deserve to find their rest. Although they are gone, she never stops tending to their graves.

However, the more Finch talks to the living, the more she loses touch with the dead. The dead have been with her for most of her life, and she is upset when they don’t talk to her as much. By the end of the novel, finding a balance between the living and the dead, Finch moves on with her life, irrespective of her facial scarring. For once, she feels that she belongs.