A Gracious Plenty

Sheri Reynolds, Author Harmony $21 (0p) ISBN 978-0-609-60225-6
Character, story and metaphor are skillfully intertwined as bestselling novelist Reynolds (The Rapture of Canaan) again creates a courageous young heroine who triumphs over grueling odds. Severely burned as a child on her face and upper body, narrator Finch Nobles has stuck close to home for most of her life. After the deaths of her parents, she tends the cemetery on her family's land. Since the living shun her (children call her ""witch"" and ""Uhg-leee""), her society is the dead, who speak to her as they perform their afterlife duties: controlling the seasons, cracking the shells of bird eggs, directing the winds and keeping the rivers flowing. Two of the dead emerge as fully developed characters: a young, rebellious beauty queen who fled her mother's control and returned to her home town in a body bag, and a reclusive alcoholic from a wealthy family who became the pet project of the local do-gooder, portrayed in scathing caricature. Though Finch remains the focus of the novel, Reynolds also traces the story of local policeman Leonard Livingston, a disappointment to his father, the mayor. Leonard is sure that his father would have preferred his younger brother--who died in infancy under circumstances that remain mysterious until the end of the novel. A climactic storm rather betrays the book's realism (even with the active dead), turning the subtle sense of menace into the atmosphere of a contrived, ghostly murder-mystery. But Reynolds's lyricism and the gentle voice of her heroine carry this poignant but redemptive story of an emotionally and physically scarred woman who finds her way out of the land of the dead and into the land of the living. 300,000 first printing. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/01/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
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