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Monday, March 05, 2007

Sufficient Grace by Darnell Arnoult

After talking about it for months, I have finally read Sufficient Grace. Here's what it says on the back of the book:

"Set against the backdrop of two neighboring Southern towns, Sufficient Grace is the powerful, affecting story of two families over the course of a year, from one Easter season to the next." "One quiet spring day, Gracie Hollaman hears voices in her head that tell her to get in her car and leave her entire life behind - her home, her husband, her daughter, her very identity. Gracie's subsequent journey releases her genius for painting and effects profound changes in the lives of everyone around her. Ultimately, her quest leads her into the home of Mama Toot and Mattie, two strong, accomplished women going through life changes of their own. As the bonds between these women grow stronger, and the family Gracie left behind come to terms with their own loss, both worlds slowly and inevitably collide, revealing a long-buried secret that they share." Sufficient Grace explores the power of personal transformation and redemption, and the many ordinary and extraordinary ways they come to pass through faith, love, motherhood, art, even food. Even though we sometimes have to leave behind an old identity in order to discover our soul, this poignant, poetic study of the human condition affirms the enduring importance of relationships and the strength we derive from them.
I found this to be a slow book. Slowly paced, nothing urgent about it, just laying out the events in a nice easy way. I didn't feel the need to return to it to see what happened next. This isn't really a bad thing, but does explain why it took me so long to read it. The book takes place over the course of a year, and follows into two storylines- Gracie's and Ed's (her husband). The book description would have you think that something dramatic happens "both worlds slowly and inevitably collide" but I think the important word there is "slowly." The "long-buried secret" wasn't so shocking, I didn't think.

That said, I enjoyed the book. I wanted to know what happened to Gracie, I thought she was well-written, and I loved Toots. Some of the characters seemed pretty one-dimensional (Ginger, Wally, the new doctor at the end). There are a few really moving scenes, my favorite being a scene involving Mattie and her late husband's shoes. Another scene is about Ed and an overabundance of windchimes, and I really liked the symbolism there.

There are some aspects that I need to think about a bit more, and might come back to later for another shot at a review. For example, how did the title come about? I'm sure it's because of the Bible verse in 2 Corinthians 12:

7To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

but does this refer to Grace? Ed? Ginger (their daughter?) I can't see how it's about Toots and Mattie. They aren't troubled at all by the appearance of a crazy white woman. I don't think it can refer to Grace, she's not the least upset by her new life, though God does talk to her. So Ed? He's handling it fine. The only character who needs a little strength seems to be Ginger, but the book isn't really about her.

I need to think more about the history of Gracie and Toots, and the little bits of backstory given by Toots. I'm wondering if I'm missing anything there, or if it's really just a way to explain Gracie's mental illness. It's all written very dramatically, hinting that there is more to the story than what is revealed.

The reader's guide at the author's website has the two following questions, which interest me:

-Sister Reba and Gracie both feel "called" to make some of the same decisions.
They both leave their families for a different, nontraditional life, a life with
a focus they believe is defined by something beyond their own desires, even by
God. They both retreat to the woods at times. Can you think of other common
ground shared by Reba and Gracie? Why are these similarities viewed differently
from one character to the other?
-On a larger scale, how do you interpret
the issues of faith and fate in the novel? Of miracles and coincidence? Of the
thin gray line between a passionate, inspired calling and bona fide illness?

I definately need to think more about that last question. I didn't make the connection between Sister Reba and Gracie while I was reading the book. During the book, they were clearly different to me, but now, thinking about it, not so much. (Sister Reba is a traveling woman preacher. She left her family and daughter behind to follow God, like Gracie. Reba is not portrayed as crazy at all, just a very religious person.)

Overall, it was a good book, and it certainly has me thinking about it longer than I usually do when I finish a book. I have a feeling that it won't be leaving my head any time soon.

While thinking about this review, I found a blog post that contains some recipes from the book. Here's a link to it.

Official Website for Darnell Arnoult


  1. Mmm, I like Southern Lit, but must confess to being not a big fan of the inspirational stuff. :(

    Thanks for visiting West of Mars; I've added you to my reader, so keep the book talk happening! :D

  2. It's funny, I didn't really think of it as inspirational, and didn't ever feel that it was really about God. The title would imply so, but I didn't get that at all from reading it. There was no preaching at all (except a few bits of Sister Reba and it was more for the character.) I didn't feel at all like I was being taught a moral lesson, because I don't think I was. I'm pretty sensative to that in fiction, and avoid it. So if it's there, it's REALLY subtle.


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