Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Review: The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner

Book Cover and Synopsis:
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 source for book: Borrowed from friend
My Thoughts:
Prior to reading The Shape of Mercy, the subject of the Salem witch trials always left me feeling confused and uneasy, which I think stemmed from a lack of knowledge of what really happened. What little I knew was gleaned from over-sensationalized movies and tv shows that largely used the supernatural angle--no wonder the topic left me uneasy!

Lauren's transcription work with Mercy's diary is extremely interesting, as is her relationship with the mysterious owner of the diary. (I also liked the details on the condition of the ancient diary and the precautions taken to prevent further deterioration. But back to the review...) Lauren's struggles in her personal life to quit judging people based on perception ties in nicely with what happened in Salem, and it really makes you stop and think about how you look at those around you--family, acquaintances, and most definitely strangers. While Lauren is likeable and her part of the story is undeniably relevant, ultimately it was Mercy's diary that kept bringing me back and leaving me reluctant to put the book down.

Though Mercy is a fictional character--basically a story inside of a story, if you will--her diary seems extremely real, giving you a realistic feeling (and un-supernatural) glimpse of the events that happened in Salem. It's enthralling, yet horrifyingly tragic. As a character Mercy is captivating, and it's awesome how so much is communicated through her diary entries without actually being said. Her relationship with John Peter was lovely, and I so liked how his affection for Mercy was obvious not in words, but in caring actions.

Meissner's writing is exceptional; it's deep and thoughtful, while at the same time remaining easy to read. Initially I did feel that familiar uneasiness regarding Salem when I began the story, but the feeling slowly faded as I started to gain a more down-to-earth, less "hollywood" idea of the events. They were regular people, just like you and I, who were wrongfully accused of evil. In order to live they were required to "confess" their supposed evil ways--a lie some couldn't bring themselves to utter, no matter the consequences.

Overall, I am honestly glad to have read this novel. It's certainly not a "light" read, but it is extremely intriguing. I feel that I now have a much better grasp on the topic of the Salem trials, along with a reminder that things and people aren't always what they seem. Though you may have to be in the mood for a more serious novel to pick this one up, it is certainly one that I'd recommend.

My Rating: 4.5 stars

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