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A Gracious Plenty: A Novel Paperback – March 16, 1999
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When I first began reading about "The Mediator" and how the dead go on living their lives in the cemetery controling the weather and plants, I was a bit doubtful about continuing reading. But, I was drawn in by Finch's character. Scarred as a child by an accident, she became a sarcastic, bitter, but brutally honest recluse who was able to carry on a relationship with the dead. The dead were fascinating -- I was particularly interested in Baby Marcus's story, and why he would just scream and cry for 30 years, and Lucy's suicide.
The writing is poetic and there are some interesting insights to life and death that I never even would've thought of. I found this novel interesting and quite calming... it was soothing and I am currently looking at other works by this author.
It is evident that author Sheri Reynolds has some talent as a writer, but this isn’t brilliant stuff. It’s a fairly easy read that is simply written. The story itself moves fairly quickly and is somewhat engaging. But when we come to the climactic storm (which is summoned up by two of the dead spirits because some of the living refuse to accept their truths), the story starts to seem terribly contrived. My enjoyment of the book was also diminished by its rather stereotypical treatment of “religious” people (Ms. Reynolds would make a good television writer) and the strong influence of postmodern thinking.
Finch Nobles lives and works in a cemetery as a caretaker. Her face, neck, and arm were horribly scarred by boiling water when she was four. Considered a freak by most of those in town, she comes to consider the cemetery and the things that she grows there "the only family I have left." She is somewhat befriended by her old school mate and now policeman, Leonard Livingston. Livingston has his own scars, but none that can be seen. Finch has learned to see and talk to the dead in her cemetery. But contrary to popular belief, the dead are very active. "There is work required of all who pass away. The Dead control the seasons. Everything depends on them. In June, the Dead tunnel earthworms, crack the shells of birds eggs, poke the croaks from frogs. The ones who died children make play of their work, blowing bugs from weed to weed, aerating fields with their cartwheels...The Dead are generous with their gifts to the living."
When someone is buried, a Mediator welcomes them and gives them the ground rules. At first, the Dead are heavy. But they will lighten up after shedding their secrets. Eventually, they become light enough to fade away. Finch also tries to pass messages from the dead to the living, which makes her even more of an outcast.
The cast of characters (both dead and alive) are quite colorful. The dead include a cross-dresser, a poet, a child beauty queen who committed suicide, a baby who won't stop crying, and even Finch's own Ma and Papa. And although the dead are usually peaceful, when they're angry, they bring wrath upon the living. And right now, there is enough anger to go around to kick up a monstrous storm.
A Gracious Plenty is playful, thought-provoking, serious, and just plain wonderful. This is my first novel by Sheri Reynolds, but it definitely won't be my last.