Blessed

BLESSED

ISBN: 978-1-945049-10-1
(available from publisher
and where books are sold)

About this Reading Group Guide

A description of Blessed, an author’s biography, and discussion topics included in this guide are intended to be used as resources for individual readers, book groups, classes, and others who would like to learn more about the author Sherry Robinson and Blessed. We hope these resources will spark thought, conversation, and discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which readers may wish to approach Blessed.

About Blessed

Grayson Armstrong’s vision for a dying church has everyone in small-town Mercy, Kentucky, talking. The truth is everyone has been talking about Grayson ever since this dark-haired twenty-eight-year-old preacher with shoulder-length hair and an ill-fitting suit drove into town twelve years before in his silver convertible with his pretty wife and two rambunctious boys. It’s his untimely death, though, that has everyone trying to understand who they thought he was.

This vivid, poignant, and heart-breaking story is told by multiple characters whose paths intersect with Grayson: a homeless Vietnam veteran haunted by demons of war; the local diner’s young waitress grappling with her family’s dark history; aggrieved and supportive congregants and townspeople confronting change and the power of love and hate; and Grayson’s wife and his coming-of-age gay son, struggling to understand their own feelings about Grayson.

During a time when communities and countries are split apart, Robinson’s calming prose and timely story encourages us to put aside our fears, hate, and biases and to open our hearts and challenge our perceptions. Blessed is ultimately a story of hope and of the power of forgiveness.

Advance Praise for Blessed

In Blessed, Sherry Robinson has created an eclectic cast of characters who could live in any American small town. Everyone here is searching for their own mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Robinson is a rare voice who explores many angles of a situation, including those that might seem easily defined as right or wrong; good or bad; evil or virtuous. In the end, even those people who seem most confident in their beliefs come to see that nothing—in religion, friendships, family, or life—is so simple.

—NATALIE SYPOLT, author of The Sound of Holding Your Breath

The characters inside Blessed are so real readers will feel they could shake their hands after a Sunday sermon. The descriptions of church are vivid: you can smell the familiar scent of a dusty sanctuary, hear golden-toned, gospel music humming from the choir room, and feel the heft of a rugged, time-tattered hymnal in your hands. Despite such striking descriptions, Robinson is able to step back and weave this wonderful tale simply, with a calmness of tone and straightforwardness that lets the characters speak for themselves. She does this to great effect. Blessed is a beautifully-written story told by a tremendously talented writer.

—FRANK REDDY, author of Eyes on the Island and award-winning journalist

Sherry Robinson has a true understanding of small towns and their spiritual turmoils. In Blessed she gives us the compelling story of the town of Mercy, through its characters and their attempts to understand the words of Christ and the conflicts that result from their differing interpretations. She writes with such clear humanity that I knew each character in the town, and therefore knew the town itself. She has a rare gift for making true characters involved in an absorbing narrative, and to our benefit she has chosen to write about real people struggling with faith, belief, and action. Her work here is so true, so immediate and compelling, that it is hard to put down.

Sherry Robinson has a true understanding of small towns and their spiritual turmoils. In Blessed she gives us the compelling story of the town of Mercy, through its characters and their attempts to understand the words of Christ and the conflicts that result from their differing interpretations. She writes with such clear humanity that I knew each character in the town, and therefore knew the town itself. She has a rare gift for making true characters involved in an absorbing narrative, and to our benefit she has chosen to write about real people struggling with faith, belief, and action. Her work here is so true, so immediate and compelling, that it is hard to put down.

—CARRIE MULLINS, author of Night Garden

Reviews

“A thoughtful religions novel…[that] asks many probing questions, using a light blend of mystery, tragedy, and reflection.”

Robinson (My Secrets Cry Aloud, 2012) tells the story of an unorthodox preacher’s effect on a small Southern town. …The novel, as narrated by various members of Grayson’s congregation, explores the ways that the exceptional young preacher touched the lives of the people of Mercy—including the diner waitress who wasn’t a churchgoer when he moved to town; the Vietnam veteran whose PTSD causes people to avoid him; and even the congregants who disagreed with Grayson’s controversial views… Grayson’s widow and children also speak their pieces, revealing the personal side of a man who was reviled by some and beloved by others. The portrait that emerges is not only that of a godly man, but also of the imperfect community of everyday Christians that he attempted to serve. Robinson’s prose is precise but malleable as she channels the voices of her many characters and reveals their fears and desires. …Robinson does an admirable job of exploring the varied personalities of other players as they grapple with their faith and other beliefs. Grayson is the name on every character’s lips, but he ultimately acts as a lens through which the reader can view each narrator.” Kirkus Reviews

About the Author

Author photo: Michelle Giles Morgan

SHERRY ROBINSON, an American fiction writer, is the author of two novels, Blessed (2019) and My Secrets Cry Aloud(2009). She is currently Vice Provost and Professor of English at Eastern Kentucky University, where she spent thirteen years specializing in American Literature before moving into administrative positions.

Robinson is a native of Lexington, Kentucky, where her desire to be an author was also born. From an early age, she became entranced with words, but it took many years and a few detours before the publication of her first novel. Among those detours was the completion of an MA from Eastern Kentucky University and a PhD from the University of Kentucky, both in English. Reading the works of so many accomplished authors taught her the characteristics of quality writing and inspired her to reignite her passion for writing. In addition to studying great works of literature, Robinson spent two summers at the Hindman Settlement School’s Appalachian Writers Workshop under the mentorship of Silas House.

Robinson is available for book readings, book discussions, books signings, and to meet with classes, book clubs, and others organizations and groups interested in discussing Blessed and/or fiction writing. Connect with her on Facebook (Sherry Robinson), Instagram (robinson725). For more information on events and more, visit Shadelandhouse Modern Press or sherryrobinsonauthor.com. To schedule Sherry for an event, contact Shadelandhouse Modern Press or Sherry Robinson.

Topics for Discussion

  1. Grayson Armstrong’s story is told through multiple characters. In what ways does that help the reader understand Grayson and in what ways does it hinder understanding?
  2. Robinson has said that the concept of perception, or perspective, is important in this novel. In what ways do you see that functioning?
  1. Religion, more specifically the role of church in people’s lives, is integral to How do different characters feel about “church”? Is the novel “anti-church”?
  2. Grayson’s arrival in Mercy sets up a power struggle between him and Reed. In what ways are they similar and in what ways are they different?
  1. The novel’s title and the section titles are derived from the Sermon on the Mount, or the Beatitudes (Matthew 5). How does this shape the novel? In what ways is that a comment on the content of a section?
  2. Forgiveness is a key theme in Blessed, as it is in other works of literature. Grayson articulates why forgiveness is both hard and yet necessary. Do you agree with his assessment?
  3. Blessed is set in a fictional small town in the South. Could this novel take place in any small town in America? Are the issues more likely to occur in a small town versus a larger metropolitan area? Or one region of the country versus another region?
  4. What characters evoke empathy for you? Are there characters that do not evoke empathy? Why?
  5. Grayson struggles the most with his relationships with Reed and with Tyler. Why are these relationships so difficult for him?
  6. Ramie and Hank both have traumatic events that shape them. How do those events shape them and their response to Grayson?
  7. What does this book say about the challenges of ministry and the expectations communities have of pastors and pastors have of themselves?
  8. Blessed is written through the voices of multiple characters. What do the attributes (language, vocabulary, speech patterns, tone, etc.) reveal about the character and his/her experience?
  9. Blessed touches on a number of issues currently relevant in our communities, churches, and country. Discuss how Grayson and others in the fictional town of Mercy, Kentucky, struggle with and respond to the issues below. What scenes in Blessed depict struggles with each of these issues?
  • Homosexuality, particularly in the context of religious organizations
  • Homelessness
  • Protests and resistance movements