Monday, October 13, 2008

Susan Meissner's The Shape of Mercy ~ Reviewed

The Shape of Mercy
By Susan Meissner
Published by WaterBrook Press
ISBN# 978-1-4000-7456-3
Pages 396

Back Cover : "We understand what we want to understand. That's how it is. How it's always been."

Leaving a life of privilege to strike out on her own, Lauren Durough breaks with her family's expectations by taking a part-time job from eighty-three-year-old librarian Abigail Boyles. The mysterious employer ask Lauren to transcribe the journal entries of her ancestor Mercy Hayworth, a victim of the Salem witch trials.

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, unable to fight the overwhelming influence of snap judgments and superstitions. 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 relationship 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?


When I started reading this book I was totally drawn into the characters lives and the situations they struggled with. I didn't read the back cover and had no idea that this story was about the Salem Witch Trials. I'm happy to report that this story is a wonderful blend of excerpts from Mercy Hayworth's diary, with events that happen in her life leading up to the trials, and snippets of Lauren Durough (a young college student) and Abigail Boyles (x-Libran) lives, and how they reacted to the diary. Mercy spills her heart out onto the pages of her diary, and it transcends time to reach out and touch the hearts of both Abigail and Lauren. It touched mine too. I don't think I could have endured reading this book if all Susan Meissner talked about was the witch trials, which were so heart wrenching.

Abigail is an 83 year old retired librarian who contracts Lauren Durough to transcribe an original diary written around the 1690's by Mercy Hayworth. Lauren is taken by Mercy's life and is quickly consumed with her story. Lauren soon discovers that there is more to Mercy than the diary she is transcribing. Abigail points out to Lauren "A woman is more than what she says about herself!" Lauren agrees that this was definitely true of Mercy.

Lauren soon discovers the "love" story in the middle of all the sadness in Mercy's life. Lauren could see how Abigail was drawn into the love story like no other, by a girl so young and innocent. When Lauren is transcribing, she thinks of what her father told her "People are always watching you, so you can't give them something to talk about. If you reveal a weakness they will use it against you. You must always guard your appearance." Her father was speaking of the company he ran, the money he made and the standard that was set for him as the owner of the company.

Lauren realized that her father's words had a whole new meaning for Mercy Hayworth during the time of the Salem Witch Trials. People started watching everyone and accusing them of terrible things, things that were not true and could not be proven untrue. Mercy struggled in her spirit; she knew that all the people accused were not witches, but if she spoke in defense of the accused, she would become accused of being a witch herself. If she said nothing, she condemned her friends with her silence. "What would God have her do?", she wondered.

My heart soon went out to Mercy Hayworth who was an author and faithful, loving daughter . She wrote stories of fairies and talking birds, and at the age of nineteen, fell victim to the Salem Witch Trials. In 1692, seven young girls in Salem, Mass., began having hallucinations and seizures. Unable to account for their afflictions, and believing as most Puritans did, anything unexplainable and terrible was of the devil, and the local physician declared that they were bewitched. I hadn't studied this topic in school much and had no idea how the trials began. I was astounded at the fact that this community believed such a thing. But given that our modern world has so many cults all over the place, I guess it wasn't such a stretch to believe that something so horrible could have happened in 1692. The characters in this story, both past and present, discover that life is full of choices, some really hard to make. But choices none the less. I love how Susan puts it "NEVER let someone else tell you what to think!" How true that is!

You will walk away from this book wanting to search out more about this time period and what else Mercy went through that Susan Meissner didn't tell you about. This book will definitely make you think about your own life and how you look at people!! This story was so moving. I can't wait to read another book by Susan Meissner.

Nora St. Laurent – Book Club Servant Leader

Bonus Review

Susan Meissner at her best—The Shape of Mercy is a unique and captivating story where past and present intersect. Masterfully drawn, the compelling characters will live on in your heart long after you close the book.

Though I knew Mercy's sad end going in, I was as drawn into her life as Lauren, wondering what Mercy had done to be accused of witchcraft. Her only crime was being a little different and having a rival in love with the same young man. In an age where superstition grew to hysteria, all it took was an accusation to seal Mercy's fate.

Meissner is brilliant at pacing, and Lauren's story unfolded bit by bit, making it difficult to put down. It's hard to say which character was my favorite, and the surprising ending crowned a memorable read. Novel Reviews and I give The Shape of Mercy our highest recommendation. A five-star read.

by: Ane Mulligan

And Bonus Review #2

Susan Meissner captivates from page one. She takes a handful of people in quiet crisis of the soul and pulls them together into a story, weaving threads of mercy, love, grace and tragedy from present day to 1692.

The point of view and focus changes from ancient, fragile diary pages to modern here and now issues like relationships keeps the horror of the happenings during the Salem Witch Trials from becoming too much and too hard.

I know a book or a movie is pure gold if I walk away but can't leave the characters or the situations. I know a novel has gotten under my skin if I feel a sadness that colors how I think or absorb things for a few days. The Shape of Mercy is a golden sliver.

Some will not like it. Readers who don't care for deep literary styles or a glimpse into sorrow or evil be warned - heavy subjects are covered -- life, death, regret, love. Others might not want to read it if they expect all Christian fiction to have a gospel message clearly presented, there is only a light touch within these pages. However, there is a depth that will cause a reader to look within and ponder life and death.

Susan Meissner has yet to disappoint me. I hope her work continues to receives wider notice. Talent with all aspects of writing put her solidly in the category of must read.

by: Kelly Klepfer

No comments: