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Mercy [Hardcover]

Alissa York
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Jan. 14 2003 0679311645 978-0679311645 1st Edition
Award-winning author Alissa York’s first novel is a haunting and masterful exploration of how passions of the spirit and the flesh can overwhelm us, and even come to inhabit the ground beneath our feet. Divided into two parts, Mercy pairs a single year in the past with a single night in the present, as they unfold in the town of Mercy, Manitoba, and in the neighbouring black spruce bog.

In 1948, a dedicated priest named August Day arrives in Mercy to take over from Father Rock, who has passed away. Although Father Day is young, the bishop has seen fit to let him take over the parish, and August feels he is fulfilling his years of devotion, study and struggle -- at last being able to serve God as alter Christus, or another Christ. The first service he is to perform in his new church is the marriage of Thomas Rose, the town butcher, to Mathilda Nickels, the orphaned niece of the church housekeeper.

Thomas Rose is a good man who waited years to express his love for Mathilda. And when Mathilda accepted his proposal, he was sure that their life together would bring them both joy, though in truth he knew little about his betrothed. Mathilda grew up in a Catholic orphanage and has since been living with her aunt Vera at St. Mary’s; she has not explored the world beyond the realm of her religious devotion, and approaches her wedding day with a mix of fear and dread. But when her eyes meet those of Father Day at the ceremony, Thomas seems to dissolve beside her and she feels physical passion for the first time in her life. As of that moment, August and Mathilda will only have eyes, and hearts, for each other.

Over the coming weeks, the young bride spends more and more time at St. Mary’s, caring for her ailing aunt and taking over the woman’s cleaning duties, but also savouring her brief moments with Father Day. Her marriage remains unconsummated, and her lust for the priest grows to fever pitch, as does his for her -- fuelled not only by the secrets they share in the confessional, but by the fiery text of the Song of Songs. When they do unite, it seems to mark the end of their secret relationship… but the child Mathilda carries away from the encounter assures us their story is not over. Rather, it is yet another thread to add to the tapestry of unspoken stories underpinning Mercy itself, and one that will affect the town’s psyche for decades to come.

Half a century later, another sort of preacher comes to Mercy -- a womanizing widower who wants to develop the black spruce bog on the edge of town and build a religious camp. Reverend Carl Mann is fairly confident of success, having taken up with Mayor Lavinia Wylie, but worries about the well-publicized protests of a woman known as Bog Mary, who has lived her entire life in the heart of the bog. He heads off to confront her and ends up lost and hurt, but Mary uses her natural remedies and knowledge to heal not only his wounds but his broken spirit.

A dark yet compassionate novel, Mercy rivals the fiction debuts of Anne Michaels, Ann-Marie MacDonald and Gail Anderson-Dargatz. Alissa York brings to life a tale of misguided love and damaged souls with language of incredible clarity and intensity.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Product Description

From Amazon

The course of true love never did run smoothly, but in Alissa York's novel Mercy love often strikes its lonely, flawed characters with devastating results. The novel's narrative is divided between the stories of two priests, separated by 50 years, and their respective love affairs in a small Manitoba town, appropriately called Mercy. The novel opens in 1948 when the butcher Thomas Rose prepares to kill a cow. (Some of the tenderest moments in the novel concern Thomas butchering an animal.) Thomas falls in love with the orphan Mathilda, whose body makes him think of the lovely carcasses of does. Meanwhile, Mathilda falls in love with Father August Day, whom she first sees when he weds her to Thomas, and an illicit love affair ensues between the two. The second part of the novel jumps forward five decades to focus on another womanizing priest, named Carl, who visits Mercy with the aim of developing its bog area into a Christian camp. The priest attempts to penetrate the bog to confront Mary, the woman who lives there. An accident forces him to remain in her care while he heals, but the experience helps him regain more than just his sight. Redemption seems possible if not necessarily convincing.

The chapters' titles set the tone by alternating terms that could be found in a butchering manual with Latin religious phrases. York's captivating, poetic prose repeatedly reminds us that her characters are creatures of flesh, with all the frailty that derives from it. For example, Thomas's face is described as "an open rib cage, displaying his ardent heart." The key to the novel can be found in the bog--an untamed wilderness on the outskirts of Mercy that surely symbolizes the town's conscience. --Leah Eichler

From Publishers Weekly

Lust and sin grapple with religious piety in this moving, occasionally overwrought novel by Canadian writer York. As August Day's first duty as priest of St. Mary's church in Mercy, Manitoba, in 1948, he marries the kindly but dull town butcher, Thomas Rose, to Mathilda Nickels, the orphaned niece of the church's housekeeper. Immediately overcome by lust for handsome August, virginal Mathilda refuses to consummate her marriage—that is, until she seduces the priest, becomes pregnant with his child and needs to keep Thomas from finding out. York develops this triangular relationship with frequent flashbacks to each protagonist's miserable childhood, alternately focusing on the town drunk, Castor Wylie. The plot can feel schematic, and the grisly denouement of Mathilda and August's sinning is telegraphed early on. But in the novel's second half, set in 2003, readers will find some gripping characters—an autistic child, a woman who lives in a bog, another sinful man of the cloth—that propel the story into new, genuinely surprising territory. York's unflinching but tender eye for the natural world results in graceful ballets of description: butchering techniques have seldom been described in such precise, loving detail, and the flora and fauna of the bog are invested with vibrant individuality. York is a gifted writer whose next novel will no doubt be a more consistent work of emotional power.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thornbirds Goes Gothic April 18 2003
Format:Hardcover
My guess is that the author had two different ideas for the same rural Manitoba setting and tried to tie them together. The result isn't wholly successful. The first part, which takes place in the late 1940s, is strong. The characters are convincing and compelling, and even though the writing suffers a little from the overly self-conscious literary style that seems to bedevil so much Canadian fiction, I was drawn into the story. I wish I could say the same for the second part, which takes place in the 1990s. There's a very forced quality to the characterization and the situation. The disbelief I had willingly suspended for the melodrama of the first part came crashing down. My suggestion to readers would be to read Mercy for the first part alone and consider it to be a reasonably accomplished novella.
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Amazon.com: 2.2 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thornbirds Goes Gothic April 18 2003
By Sarah Breckman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
My guess is that the author had two different ideas for the same rural Manitoba setting and tried to tie them together. The result isn't wholly successful. The first part, which takes place in the late 1940s, is strong. The characters are convincing and compelling, and even though the writing suffers a little from the overly self-conscious literary style that seems to bedevil so much Canadian fiction, I was drawn into the story. I wish I could say the same for the second part, which takes place in the 1990s. There's a very forced quality to the characterization and the situation. The disbelief I had willingly suspended for the melodrama of the first part came crashing down. My suggestion to readers would be to read Mercy for the first part alone and consider it to be a reasonably accomplished novella.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Confusing Dec 31 2013
By Melissa F - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Leaves a lot of questions unanswered, without any clear focus of what you are to take from it. Started interestingly enough, but didn't develop well and second half was a huge question mark.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unusual Jan. 6 2012
By K. Sowa - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Mercy was an unusual book. The writing was haunting and the story was heartbreaking. The utter devotion of Father Day to his beliefs and the way his feelings for Mathilda destroy him, both physically and spiritually, provide the center of the story in the first half of the book. The author also gives us a window into the mind of Thomas, Mathilda's husband. He seems oafish at first, but develops into a character that is just as trapped and full of longing as Father Day and Mathilda. The lives of these three people are emotionally tortured and close in around them until the entire situation culminates in a very dramatic way.

The second half of the book left me feeling a little lost. Fifty years have gone by and now the town of Mercy has changed. We meet a corrupt preacher with an autistic daughter whose life is essentially one affair after another. His desire to to develop the bogs put him in contact with Bog Mary, who he must rely on for help when he is injured. His character is connected to the people in the beginning of the book, but I just didn't feel the same way about the second half as I did about the first. We really got to know Mathilda, Thomas and Father Day through the minutia of their days, but this didn't continue in the second half of the book. I felt like the characters were just as interesting, but not as well developed

The arrangement of short chapters and the ideas of religion, morality and devotion were weaved into the story in a unique way. The second half weakened it and I regret that the momentum didn't continue throughout the entire book.
2.0 out of 5 stars Rambling literary story Jan. 11 2012
By Sarah - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This was a very literary type story that unfortunately seemed to ramble about with no distinct plot. The book was divided into two sections, which seemed to be very different stories with few overlapping connections.

The ending left me confused, There was no real conclusion and a lot of questions were left unanswered.

I was surprised at the amount of sexual references and overtones in the book. It was a little jarring and unexpected. For such a discreet time period with puritanical characters, sex played a large role in the book.

Overall, the story was not what I was expecting, and I was felt feeling unsatisfied.
1.0 out of 5 stars Mercy Me March 22 2009
By bookworm - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This has GOT to be the strangest book I've ever read. It was hard to follow with all the sections pulled up from the past. I think it would have been a better story if some attention had been given to the night Mathilda gave birth. Was the priest ever found? What did Thomas do about the disappearance of his wife? Instead fast forward 44 years and try to sort out the new cast of characters. The ending was just chopped off, gave no conclusion to the story at all.
I don't think I'll read any more by this author, too many other good ones on my list.
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