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Mercy Among the Children Paperback – Aug 21 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor Canada (Aug. 21 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385259956
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385259958
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2.9 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 386 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #57,628 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Amazon

Transpose Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure to New Brunswick's rugged Miramichi River. Surround Job with loose fists, malicious boots, and cold, gallon wine. Invite the Macbeths over for drinks. Add a lame dog named Scupper Pit and you've got the raw ingredients of David Adams Richards's Mercy Among the Children. Set in an isolated, wind-besieged house with bullet holes in the tarpaper walls, Richards's novel wonders-- pointedly, beautifully--whether goodness is merely a luxury.

At the age of 12, having borne more suffering in his child's body than any adult should endure, Sydney Henderson vows never to harm another human soul. Turning his back on the violent alcoholism of his upbringing, self-educated Sydney wins the honest respect of the beautiful Elly and the children they bear. Honest respect, however, is rarely a match for fear and base human opportunism. Manipulated, attacked, and abused by a small community eager for a scapegoat, Sydney loses his job, the health of his wife, and, most importantly, the respect of his son Lyle. "There is no worse flaw in man's character," Richards knows, "than that of wanting to belong."

The superb, controlled, and unapologetic Mercy Among the Children is nothing less than an inquiry into human strength. Richards uses the crack of ribs on a frigid night to remind us of the opportunistic populism of much so-called morality. Mercy, which shared Canada's premier fiction award, the Giller Prize, with Michael Ondaatje's Anil's Ghost, combines the hound dog's attention to locale of fellow Maritimer Alistair MacLeod with the quotidian insight of countryman Timothy Findley's The Wars, especially its reminder that the emotions behind war also drive fights over who should scrub the dinner dishes. --Darryl Whetter

From Publishers Weekly

Unrecognized yet in the States, Canadian author Richards should win new readers here with this stark and affecting novel. A working man living in a shack in the "Stumps," an area of New Brunswick dependent on timber and tourism, Sydney Henderson has the unfortunate knack of arousing hostility among his neighbors by the unconscious display of his virtues. As a child, he was beaten by his father, sexually abused by his priest and once nearly killed a playmate. Out of such experiences he has forged a Tolstoyan moral credo, educating himself in literature and art and refusing to meet violence with violence. When Sydney marries Elly Brown, who is judged too beautiful to be matched with the town's poverty-stricken outcast, the scapegoating gets worse. Rebuffed by Elly when he attempts to rape her, a vindictive Stumps resident joins a scheme that eventually causes Sydney to be blamed for crimes he hasn't committed, including manslaughter and child abuse. The novel is narrated by Sydney's son, Lyle, who, in opposition to his father's stoic pacifism, craves revenge. In trying to exact it, he becomes feared, but is inwardly polluted. Worse, he injures those he loves most. The dogged narration takes some time to acquire dramatic tension, but eventually its unflagging rhythm becomes addictive. Though some readers may recoil from the book's frank depiction of pervasive poverty, Richards shows how powerfully the novel can operate as a mode of moral exploration a fact sometimes forgotten in the age of postmodern irony. (Oct.)Forecast: Richards's novel won Canada's 2000 Giller Award (shared with Ondaatje's Anil's Ghost), and critical attention should give it a boost here, too. Arcade is ordering a 35,000-copy first printing and sending Richards on a four-city author tour.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most helpful customer reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Cipriano on Feb. 11 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is among the very best fiction I have read in a long long while. And yet, it was given to me by a friend who could not endure reading any further than the first few chapters. I think it is the kind of story you either love or hate, it is dark and frustrating and definitely not a "feel-good". I can see how some could feel smothered and weary with the relentless pessimistic Hardyesque fatalism that Richards marinates this thing in... it's like Jude The Obsure meets the biblical Book of Job! But I like Hardy. And Job for that matter! So I did not mind the constant question that revolves in "Mercy" which is, "How is the Henderson family going to survive the terrible injustice, shame and misfortune that is hurled against them?" Does truth matter?
Set in rural New Brunswick, Lyle Henderson, now nineteen years old, narrates the history of his family... the misfortune and ostracism that began with his grandfather and was passed on down to Lyle's father Sydney. At the age of twelve, an accident happens and Sydney, mistaking his friend for dead and believing himself responsible, makes a rash vow to God. If the boy lives, Sydney will never harm another living soul. The boy gets up and walks away. Lyle's recollections chronicle the result of Sydney's radical superhuman commitment to an unlimited "turn-the-other-cheek" pacifism. Sydney subjects himself, and in turn, subjects his family to a life of utter poverty and ridicule in the face of escalating accusations and abuse that come from a community that is only too willing to take advantage of his non-resistance. As Lyle says at one point "My mother and father's dreams were always dispensable to certain people, who for some reason believed that they themselves and their dreams were indispensable.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Charlotte Vale-Allen on June 10 2002
Format: Hardcover
Here is a book about poverty, both of the spirit and of the pocket. Written in spare, tidy prose with exceptional characterizations, it is a dark tale periodically shot through with veins of pure gold; moments of such exquisite sweetness (in the character of little Percy, or the aging but quietly heroic Jay Beard) that they are painful. There is nothing stock about the narrative or about the characters who are among the most fully realized I've ever read. The good people (the Hendersons) are all forgivably flawed in some small way. And the bad people are understandable in their angry manipulations, in their negative strengths and human weaknesses. This is not light reading but it is potent and powerful, an evocation of the lengths to which the very poor can be driven. Lyle Henderson, son of the Job-like Sydney, narrator of the family history is a most believably tortured and loving soul. One hopes, throughout this book, for affirming moments that never materialize. Yet there is such truth here that I found it impossible not to keep reading.
I am dismayed that I didn't know of the award-winning David Adams Richards before reading this book, but I will certainly be reading his other books at the first possible opportunity. The author's talent is rare and wonderful; his eye is clear and he wastes no time on frilly adjectives. This is prose (and truth) at its purest--a truly remarkable achievement.
My highest recommendation.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Edinburgh Reader on Feb. 13 2003
Format: Paperback
There is a quote, that I must have picked up somewhere, that says that you can tell art is good when it stays with you. When those scenes from a certain film, that line of poetry, or that section of a novel comes back into your head time and time again - it's a sure sign that the work is great.
For me this is one of those books. The number of times it has come into my life and my thoughts I cannot count.
I think it might have broken my heart.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J. Fercho on Dec 4 2001
Format: Hardcover
If I was rating this book on the writing alone, it would certainly be worth five stars. However as the other reviewers have stated this book is ripe with painful almost unbearable material, and the sheer difficulty of slogging through the misfortunes of the Henderson family makes for some mighty depressing reading. You will likely find yourself saying "Enough already, how much more can these poor people take!" That said this is still an excellent book, and well worth your time to read. Just remember if you are looking for a "feelgood" read this is probably not the book for you.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By virginia allen on June 3 2002
Format: Hardcover
Although fictional, Mercy among the children portrays what could be a real life drama. From beginning to end, Richards shows great insight and understanding of human nature. His characters through the generations are believable and consistent. The issues of Morality and Justice intertwined throughout the story lines evoke strong emotions. This was a book I couldn't put down and when finished, wanted to share with others. It was easy to read, even though the themes continues to haunt.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 16 2006
Format: Paperback
The author really held my interest, I had difficulty putting the book down. I kept expecting that something good surely would happen to the characters as one tragedy followed another. It was a depressing book although well written.
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By Lorina Stephens TOP 500 REVIEWER on Sept. 22 2014
Format: Paperback
Periodically there are books which come into our lives we choose to read not because they are guarantors of entertainment, escapism, pleasure, but because we are aware the writer has something to say, hopefully says it well, and the scent of which lingers in years to come like a primal memory, an underlying truth.

Such is the case with David Adams Richards' Giller Award winning novel, Mercy Among the Children.

Told through the unreliable narrator of Lyle Henderson, son of the main protagonist and chief underdog in the story, Sydney Henderson, Mercy Among the Children is an epic tale of hypocrisy and greed, of ignorance and poverty not only of economics but of morality. It is not a pleasant read. Nor is it an easy read. But it is gripping and needs to be read much in the way Steinbeck needs to be read, or Harper Lee, or any number of writers who have championed the cause of the disenfranchised and downtrodden.

Set in the Miramichi Valley of New Brunswick, Canada, this labyrinthine tale weaves through betrayals, robberies, murder, toxic waste of the soul and the environment, through generations of people held under the implacable autocracy of the company town. It is relentless in its brutality and sorrow. There are no happy endings in sight. And it resonates with an awful truth which simply cannot be ignored.

My only quibble is in the opening third of the novel the relentless barrage of misdeeds against the Henderson family teeters on the brink of the precious, so that at any moment I fully expected Dickens' Tiny Tim to make an appearance. Beyond that, there is a court scene which very much put me in mind of Harper Lee's now legendary court case in To Kill a Mockingbird, and the societal burden Steinbeck presented in The Grapes of Wrath

A recommended read which should be followed immediately by something mindless, hilarious and utterly frivolous, just for balance.
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