Thursday, November 26, 2009

Review: The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner

Lauren Durough is the only child of a fabulously wealthy and successful entreprenurial father. She has spent her whole life trying to live up to the family legend of success and ability. But she doesn't want to do everything the way that she imagines her father wants her to and so she enacts small moments of rebellion, choosing to go to a state school instead of Stanford. She lives in a dorm with a roommate instead of alone in a fancy condo. And she has now decided that she wants to forgo the allowance that has made her college life so easy so she applies for a job. But Lauren is not finished walking off the beaten path, applying for a job in which none of the other English majors is interested. And when she goes to Abigail's gracious home and hears that the job is to transcribe Abigail's distant relative's diary from the time of the Salem witch trials, she wants the job desperately.

The novel weaves the stories of Lauren, the elderly Abigail, and the long deceased Mercy together. Mercy's diary was probably the most interesting bit of the story but instead of choosing to portray it in the language and tone of the times, Meissner chose to have the diary be in modern language which made it hard to distinguish between Mercy's voice and Lauren's. There was no real legitimate argument for having Abigail ask Lauren to not only transcribe the diary but to transliterate it as well to make it accessible to a modern reader. If Abigail's intention was to have the diary published, an intention she disclaims, that might be one thing but as she doesn't there is no compelling reason to her request, thereby robbing the novel of some of its authenticity.

The love story between Mercy and John Peter is sweet and charming as portrayed in the diary and certainly is a foil to the long ago love of Abigail's that Lauren pushes to discover. But the story of Abigail's love and loss is abrupt and never fully fleshed out making it hard to compare it to the sacrifice that Mercy makes. Many of the plot threads in the story are not so much left dangling as ignored completely once the end of the story nears and that is a frustrating thing. I don't think the strived for parallels between all three of the women were as successful as I suspect they should have been. I didn't love the book, because of these flaws but I'm not sorry I read it. There was potential there and the nugget of the story was a good one that just didn't fully work.


  1. Sorry it wasn't better crafted as the plot line sounds promising. Thanks for the honest review!

  2. The premise and the story sound wonderful. It's a shame it was not fully developed and polished.


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