Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner

Susan Meissner’s The Shape of Mercy has been garnering a lot of buzz in the publishing industry. She has received numerous positive reviews, including a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. I find myself on the fence.

The Shape of Mercy is a framed story. We are taken on this journey by the narrator Lauren who is a trust-fun baby, determined to prove to the world, and herself, that she can stand on her own two feet. She is hired by an elderly woman, Abigail, to translate a diary. This diary has been handed down in Abigail’s family for centuries and is a first hand account of the Salem Witch Trials, written by a young woman named Mercy, who was later tried and sentenced to death as a witch. Thus, in effect we have a modern story framing the historical story.

The writing is beautiful, poetic and lyrical. The characters draw you in and wring tears from you as they discover truths about themselves along the way. The story is compelling and even though you know that Mercy is fated to die, you can’t help reading and hoping.

For me this book came down to the ending. And when I got there I was in such an ethical dilemma that I was only relieved that it was over.

SPOILER     SPOILER     SPOILER     SPOILER     SPOILER

My issue with this story is that it portrays suicide as an act of mercy. As somehow more honorable than execution. The premise is that Mercy knows she has been condemned to die, but she doesn’t want the man she loves to be left with the image of her being hung. Instead she takes matters into her own hands and hangs herself. To me this smacks more of vanity than mercy. I appreciate the thought behind this novel, but I just cannot buy into it, despite my best efforts. After all, what if Jesus decided to commit suicide instead of being crucified, so that his mother would be spared unpleasant memories. Which is the greater act of mercy?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Constant Heart by Siri Mitchell

Set in the waning years Elizabethan England, A Constant Heart is the story of the Earl of Selwyck and his lovely and na├»ve young bride. A young woman he married for her dowry. As he schemes and intrigues for the Queen’s favor, his new wife is left floundering amidst the grandeur and pettiness of Elizabeth’s court.

As their family totters on the brink of ruin they must learn to trust the Lord and one another in order to survive.

Siri Mitchell’s prose is gripping from page one. I found myself hard pressed to put down this book. It is beautifully written and full of historical details, which bring it to life rather than weighing it down. One of the themes is beauty and the price women will pay to achieve the look considered beautiful in their society. The make-up used by women of the time, mercury and so on literally poisoned them. It is a fascinating tale and one that has ramifications for women today.

The only caveat I have about this story is that it is told in First person, both in the hero and the heroine’s perspective. At times, especially when you are really devouring the pages the transitions, get lost and it can be confusing as you wonder whose head you are really in.

Overall, however, I was totally invested in these characters and I had to find out what happened to them. A little awkwardness in the transitions was a small price to pay for a great and memorable story.

Must Reads

  • All the Tea in China-Jane Orcutt www.revellbooks.com
  • In the Shadow of the Sun King-Golden Keyes Parsons www.goldenkeyesparsons.com
  • Wings of a Dream-Anne Mateer

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