NAMI's Bookshelf: Sufficient Grace
Sufficient Grace, by Darnell Arnoult, is a Southern novel that explores themes of faith, family, love, and redemption. It’s sensitive, at times humorous. It’s also about schizophrenia, inspired by the mother of the author.
The book opens with Gracie Homan drawing a life-size picture of Jesus on the walls of her house to watch over the family she is about to leave -- in response to commands from spiritual voices. She wanders and is discovered miles away -- mute and incapacitated -- by two women.
No one sees her as mentally ill. The only doctor in town who still makes house calls confirms she has no physical injury. “She may have a condition not so readily diagnosed,” he observes.
In fact, the words “mental illness” do not appear until page 140 of the book. “Schizophrenia” not until page 153. Gracie emerges as a character without labels, introduced without presumption.
The lives of two families—one white, one black—end up being profoundly affected by Gracie’s illness. Two worlds collide and family ties are redrawn. Compassion transforms an elderly widow. An abandoned husband finds a second chance at love. A daughter learns to accept her mother’s illness.
And Gracie’s genius as a painter is revealed.
But first, there are difficult moments.
“How many crazy people have come to the ER?” Gracie’s daughter wonders after learning her mother’s diagnosis. “How many mothers and daughters? How many husbands and wives? How many mothers and children? How many people adrift and separating, trying to hold on to each other, the distance between them all constantly growing wider and wider? How many of them laugh to the point of tears as the seam between them, the thing holding them together, rips open?”
“Is there a history of mental illness in the family,” Gracie’s doctor asks her husband.
“Her daddy shot hisself. I guess that requires a certain amount of crazy.”
“Has she ever been hospitalized?”
“There was this one time when she was in college. She told me about it before we were married, but she never talked about it after that…My wife has always listened to her own drummer. But she’s never been what you’d call depressed. Just different. Always looking at things from a different angle.”
Mythology and religion play important roles in the novel as “cornerstones” in the way Gracie sees the world. Cooking gives it additional flavor. One reviewer calls the book “southern story-telling at its finest.”
Another describes it as “a hymn of praise to the possibility that wells in the shadows, the promise that waits within the most broken among us, and the power of love in all its infinite variety.”
The author, lives on a farm in Tennessee with her husband, a drywall contractor and artist, and their three horses, two cats, and five dogs. This is her first novel, written at age 50. She was eight when her mother was diagnosed with late-onset schizophrenia.