Mercy Among the Children Paperback – Aug 21 2001
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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. See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
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.
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.
Most recent customer reviews
This story was hauntingly good. I didn't know what to expect and I was not disappointed.
I'm planning to look for other David Adams Richards books now.
I can see why this book got some accolades but it is so depressing and all the characters talk like overwrought first year philosophy majors. Read morePublished 18 months ago by reluctantm
What a fantastic book! I loved the whole book in general even though at times it was predictable. The complexity of the characters and the moral questions raised by this book was... Read morePublished 18 months ago by Gavin Martin
I loved this book. I loved the characters- especially Percy. I loved how it kept me in suspense until the last page. Read morePublished on July 18 2014 by Kindle Customer
This is the third time I have tried to read this book, and the third time I will put it down without completing it.
To me it was very negative. Read more
This is the best book I have read so far in my 49 years. The author must have lived many lives in order to have portrayed humanity so perfectly. Read morePublished on Jan. 13 2011 by laurie battersby
Richards has an engaging writing style. It's simple and direct. The plot however concerns a family victimised by townsfolk you'd see in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Read morePublished on Jan. 31 2008 by Mr. Martin Leidig
I'm not being over the top, when I say that this book is one of the best I have ever read. An incredible piece of writing, I found it hard to put down. Read morePublished on Jan. 29 2004 by Holden
I usually do not read a lot, nor do I enjoy reading a Canadian novel, however from the second I picked this book up, I found it incrediably diffucult to put it back down. Read morePublished on Oct. 14 2003