Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner Review

The Shape of Mercy: A Novel
From Goodreads: 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 take:  I loved The Shape of Mercy through to the very end; in fact I couldn't put it down at the last.  As Lauren transcribes the diary of Mercy Hayworth into readable language the character of Mercy comes alive both for Lauren and for the reader.  

Toward the beginning of the book there is a hint of the paranormal that I assumed would be developed in the story.  It wasn't, and I was slightly disappointed.  If the reader knows going in that this angle won't be followed it will be a more comfortable read.  Abigail, Lauren, Mercy and the supporting characters are well-crafted and multi-layered.  Their thought processes, and characterizations of others show growth and deeper understanding as the story progresses.  I admire an author that can show evolution in the characters, and author Susan Meissner earned my esteem.

The Shape of Mercy reminded me of reading a portion of my great, great, great grandmother's diary and finding her come alive in her first person account of her life.  The women, both my grandmother and Mercy are not just sepia-toned images in the context of history, but women whose lives promised hope and heartache, just like any other woman in any other point in history.

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