September 12, 2012

Review: The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner

The Shape of Mercy: A Novel

About the book:

“We understand what we want to understand.”

Leaving a life of privilege to strike out on her own, Lauren Durough breaks with convention and her family’s expectations by choosing a state college over Stanford and earning her own income over accepting her ample monthly allowance. She takes a part-time job from 83-year-old librarian Abigail Boyles, who asks Lauren to transcribe the journal entries of her ancestor Mercy Hayworth, a victim of the Salem witch trials.

Almost immediately, Lauren finds herself drawn to this girl who lived and died four centuries ago. As the fervor around the witch accusations increases, Mercy becomes trapped in the worldview of the day, unable to fight the overwhelming influence of snap judgments and superstition, and Lauren realizes that the secrets of Mercy’s story extend beyond the pages of her diary, living on in the mysterious, embittered Abigail.

The strength of her affinity with Mercy forces Lauren to take a startling new look at her own life, including her relationships with Abigail, her college roommate, and a young man named Raul. But on the way to the truth, will Lauren find herself playing the helpless defendant or the misguided judge? Can she break free from her own perceptions and see who she really is?

My thoughts:

Ah, the Salem witch trials. Not a period of history I ever enjoyed learning about in school. It must have been a terrible place and time to live. I have to say that Meissner did an incredible job of getting me to read about it and enjoy it even!  We start out in present day with Lauren, and as she gets the diary and starts transcribing, we read along with her. Mercy's story sucks you in. I had no idea what would happen to her, and I so wanted a happy ending! (I confess that I love happy endings! I can handle semi-happy ones, and even sad ones, but not miserable ones.)  Lauren uncovers each happiness and each heartache that Mercy deals with.  Mercy's life is certainly not an easy one! I was glad Meissner spread the diary entries out, interspersed with Lauren's present day story. It helped keep me from getting too bogged down in the miseries and fear of witch hunts that Mercy was experiencing.  Lauren on the other hand, has a relative life of ease. But she's not happy. She has moments of happiness, yes.  But she's not really happy. Abigail Boyles, unknowingly, gives her a chance to change that. And through their interactions, they set each other on the path they each need to follow.  Lauren's quiet, yet sweet romance with Raul is cute and funny.  She can't quite figure him out, but she's intrigued enough to want to try.

This is one of my favorite books! I have re-read and re-read it countless times. I think I must somewhat connect with Lauren in her confusion and insecurity.  She has such a great life, yet she feels like she doesn't measure up.  Especially to her father's standards.  I love their father-daughter relationship!  They love each other, but opening up and being honest is difficult. It takes some testing to get it through their heads. I can totally understand that.  It seems so often in my own life, that I have to go through a difficult time to be reminded of how blessed I am. And to then get up and live life, not just hang about in this rut I'm enjoying at the moment.  Mercy and compassion are prevalent in the story, and they are traits that most every one of us could use more of in our lives. So, well done, Ms. Meissner!  This one is on my shelf and not going anywhere anytime soon!

A favorite passage:
Two rooms in my parents' home are largely ignored by the rest of the household. One is the little library.

It's called a library because it contains books--mostly out-of-print first editions valuable because of their age, not the wisdom contained in them--and it is little because its smaller than the main library on the first floor, which is also my father's home office.  Mom and dad both keep back issues of their favorite magazines in the little library, as well as banker's boxes of files and papers and records. Otherwise, to them, it is a forgotten room.

 For me, it was a kind of prayer room, although I never actually prayed in it. It's where I went when I was especially mad or afraid or sad. It was hard to pray actual thoughts during those times. I don't know very many people who can piece together eloquent prayers when their souls are wounded.  Words don't come at those times, but tears do. I have always thought of my tears as prayers.

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