And so, the end is in sight! The big pile of library books on which I placed holds is now down to one, A Gracious Plenty being the penultimate one in what was a mound of a monstrous seven at the start of last week (I may be wrong on these details). I’m not one for looking at the size of font when reading a book but I was mightily relieved, even giddy when I saw that this book was not only a thin paperback but also a large print version. What this means, my dear readers, is that I whizzed through it in next to no time.
But, to be honest, despite these bonuses to aid quicker reading, I would have read it speedily anyway as it was rather good. You see, I really liked the story of Finch Nobles. She is our narrator and a quirky one at that, showing us her daily struggle to find a place in the living world of her home town, where she is viewed as someone to be feared or avoided because of a childhood disfigurement, which has altered her appearance and of which she is extremely conscious.
She has withdrawn from the living as a result, a defensive strategy to avoid hurt, ridicule and taunts and is justified if her interaction with the young people of the town and the prim ladies is anything to go by.
In fact, the only living people with whom she has extended contact are Leonard, who she has known virtually all her life and who she pities to a degree despite him being the police chief; Reba, the store owner and fervent Christian philanthropist of the town or, at least, that is how Reba would like to view herself; and the Vegetable Man who is the man who buys Finch’s vegetables to sell, Finch using the fertile ground of the graveyard to propagate her produce.
As she is the custodian of the local cemetery, this is not that unusual. However, what is unusual is that all of the many friends that Finch has acquired happen to reside close to her vegetable patch, as she is able to communicate with the Dead.
I like the world that Sheri Reynolds creates in this book. Finch’s progression through life is deeply affected by the incident that leaves her scarred at the age of four. It also affects her father and especially her mother who holds herself partly responsible for what has happened to her only daughter. With such prominent scarring comes a heightened awareness of the difference you have when compared to others and Finch becomes a little distant to those who might actually feel kindly towards her, her recalcitrant attitude developing as a result of bad treatment by some but not all, and this alters her perception of much, including the way that people view her, most apparent in her relationship with Leonard Livingston, the town’s police chief.
The book deals with Finch at her daily job which is to tend the local graveyard and it is through doing this that she is able to communicate with the Dead who are currently residing at their graveside, being coached by a being called the Mediator who is urging them to talk in order to “lighten” and therefore, move on.
Finch’s relationships with the Dead are varied. Both of her parents are there as they wait to “lighten”, a term given to describe the state that the Dead must obtain in order to leave the world of the living, which involves talking about their lives in order to free themselves of any emotional burdens. Her closest friend is in the form of Lucy, who used to live in the town and was a beauty pageant queen as a girl until she moved away to live a life less savoury. Lucy is keen for Finch to tell her mother the true circumstances of her death, her mother believing that Lucy was murdered. This gets Finch into all sorts of trouble with Leonard and also draws unwanted attention from Reba, the store owner as previously mentioned. Reba is a prime example of the woman who believes she follows Jesus but wants to make up her own rules on how to do this and is less than charitable to Finch at times.
As well as helping and listening to Lucy, the book is mainly about resolving the issues of two other key people who are hovering in the graveyard called Marcus and William. Marcus is a baby who incessantly cries, finding little comfort with anyone and William is a new addition to the graveyard, a project of Reba’s when he was alive and a man who was living a secret existence, only uncovered on his demise.
But what it is also about is Finch finding a way to live amongst the living and not just those in feline form like the many feral cats that she allows to overrun her home.
This book might sound a bit gloomy but it is actually quite funny, as Finch is an engaging narrator and the characters around her are eccentric. Reynolds has an easy writing style and is able to write convincing dialogue which brings the people with whom Finch interacts to life, even those who are Dead. The magical realism element of the novel is interwoven into the fabric of Finch’s story so that the grand climax at the end that involves a strange event with supernatural overtones seems the perfectly natural way for a story like this to end. This event catalyses into a tragedy that brings people together, a revelation and hope for our heroine to move forward into a life that may hold happiness and companionship for her.
I liked Sheri Reynolds’ book and it was only on looking for a picture to place with this blog that I realised that she has been on my shelf for a long time, her novel The Rapture of Canaan‘s cover being one that I recognised as having here. Watch this space for that one some time in the future, once these library books are read and returned.
Parts of this review were originally published on Reedsy Discovery.