Thursday, June 10, 2010

Review: The Mercy Papers by Robin Romm

Fierce, emotional, and painful, this book is Romm's recounting of her mother's last three weeks before dying of breast cancer. Her mother was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer when Romm was only 19. She lived for nine more years. Nine short years. Nine not-nearly-enough years. But then she died, slowly, painfully, and too soon. Romm tells roughly not only of her mother's last three weeks but also the ways in which her mother's dying affected her. She was angry and selfish and bitter, raging against the universe and the hospice nurse and her mother's longtime friends and her father and herself.

This is not an easy book to read, despite its slight size. It is packed with incredible depth of emotion, such that sometimes the reader has to take a breather, the very thing that Romm could not do, could not afford to do, in the time of her mother's dying. And as much as this is the memoir of a woman dying, it is also very much the story of Robin Romm, the daughter losing her mother. It is peppered with memories and remembrances, because even before her mother is physically gone, she is no longer the mother Romm knew, instead floating on a sea of pain killers and barely conscious. Romm does not sugar-coat her feelings about the people surrounding her mother. She is oftentimes nasty and snipes at them, either on the page or in fact. She is selfish, not wanting to share her mother, wanting her to be present as long as she can. Throughout, it is clear that she is devastated and fighting no matter the cost. This book is raw, it is angry, it is philosophical, and it probably isn't for everyone. But it is well-written and intense and true too. The final twelve pages of the book, blank because loss never ends, are stark reminders of the hole left behind for Romm and her family, and really for all of us. And those readers who don't shy away from the pain depicted here will find a gem.


  1. Wow. This looks like a powerful book. Not one I could handle right now but a good one to keep in mind if someone is going through the same thing.

  2. Hello. . . I'm Jill McDonough, and I run 24PearlStreet, the Fine Arts Work Center online. And Robin Romm is teaching a class for us, online, starting April 9: it’s called “Shaping the Truth.” Here's a course description and link:

    Often, we know we have a story, but when we sit down to write it, if we sit down to write it, the details all come rushing forward, jumbled and tangled. Which scene is actually important? Do we need all these characters? And what about the issue of chronology? How do memoirists and journalists write such shapely nonfiction, when the world is such a unruly and complicated place?
    This course, which is open to all nonfiction writers (memoirists, personal essayists, nature writers, travel writers, science writers, food writers, etc.), will focus on how to isolate the most interesting stories and then hone them, so they come across as interesting stories to the reader. How do we choose details that will evoke an emotional response? How do we write our difficult material without becoming maudlin or sentimental? How do we write complex human dynamics, or fold in factual information without becoming wonks? What is the role of plot of in creative nonfiction? Each week, writers will be presented with a structured exercise that will explore issues of craft: dialogue, detail, character, story arc. At times, students will be asked to explore the line between fiction and nonfiction in these exercises, in order to wake up emotional accuracy. Students will have four short essays or stories that will lead to the completion of one full-length piece. (The full-length piece will be a composite of these pieces, or an entirely new piece inspired by these pieces.) Students will have the chance to email with me directly about these pieces, as well as get ample feedback and encouragement from peers. In order to fully understand craft, we will be reading both fiction and nonfiction by writers such as Vivian Gornick, Dave Eggers, Lorrie Moore, Peter Orner, and Elizabeth Gilbert.

    I was thinking you all might want to know about it. . . or at least I could let you know you are not whistling into the wind there at your computer. We are a new program, and are still trying to figure out how to get the word out there. Let me know if you have any questions or thoughts—and thanks!

    take care--



I have had to disable the anonymous comment option to cut down on the spam and I apologize to those of you for whom this makes commenting a chore. I hope you'll still opt to leave me your thoughts. I love to hear what you think, especially so I know I'm not just whistling into the wind here at my computer.

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