Book Review: The Shape of Mercy *Winner Announced!*

Title: The Shape of Mercy
Author: Susan Meissner
Publisher’s Synopsis“We understand what we want to understand.”

Leaving a life of privilege to strike out on her own, Lauren Durough breaks with convention and her family’s expectations by choosing a state college over Stanford and earning her own income over accepting her ample monthly allowance. She takes a part-time job from 83-year-old librarian Abigail Boyles, who asks Lauren to transcribe the journal entries of her ancestor Mercy Hayworth, a victim of the Salem witch trials.

Almost immediately, Lauren finds herself drawn to this girl who lived and died four centuries ago. As the fervor around the witch accusations increases, Mercy becomes trapped in the worldview of the day, unable to fight the overwhelming influence of snap judgments and superstition, and Lauren realizes that the secrets of Mercy’s story extend beyond the pages of her diary, living on in the mysterious, embittered Abigail.

The strength of her affinity with Mercy forces Lauren to take a startling new look at her own life, including her relationships with Abigail, her college roommate, and a young man named Raul. But on the way to the truth, will Lauren find herself playing the helpless defendant or the misguided judge? Can she break free from her own perceptions and see who she really is?

After reading Lady in Waiting by Susan Meissner, I chose this book eagerly.  If she did half as well with this story as she did with Lady Jane Grey, I knew it would be wonderful.  The book arrived, and I was in the throes of bridesmaids’ dresses.  Couldn’t read them.  Saturday night after one dress was definitely done, I decided to reward myself.  I immediately grabbed for this book and read it in a couple of hours.

I have a confession to make.  I nearly shut it and ignored it for another week or two.  No kidding.  The book opens with a similar scene to the One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  Not only is there the whole birth story thing going on, but Mrs. Meissner actually lapses into first person present tense for a very short while.  I was so disappointed and frustrated.

I turned the page.  Boy, am I glad I did.  As I said, I was really hoping this book would be at least half as well done as the last.  It wasn’t.  It was twice as good.  Lady in Waiting was the appetizer.  This book is the full meal.

There are so many facets to this book that I am having trouble organizing them into a coherent review.  Unlike the last book, I was primarily drawn to the historical character– at least at first.  Mercy Hayworth was an incredible young girl.  Like Lauren, you can’t help become captivated by this young Puritan girl who truly loves the Lord and aches for the pain Salem is enduring– even as she endures her own pain at home.  She questions the validity of the accusations, and yet, she also manages to find ways to think the best of the accusers.  She’s certain that they’ve become convinced of their own stories.  The horrors of so many trials and executions weigh on her, until Mercy avoids anything public when she can.

There are many interwoven plots in this book– more than meets the eye at first.  Lauren’s father seems quite open and shut at first, but layers of his personality unfold that explain many things.  Her cousins also, in their own subtle ways, show so much of who Lauren is and how she became the young woman we meet in the story.  Raul is a bit of a mystery and, in my opinion, one of the best parts of the story.  I love how he refuses to be pigeonholed and yet not overtly.  Abigail Boyles has several of her own subplots that carry the story along brilliantly.

One of the most brilliant aspects of this book is Lauren coming to terms with her reverse snobbery.  She learned, through interaction with her roommate, Raul, her father, Abigail, and others just how she weighed everything in her life by wealth or lack of it.  There is a line near the end of the book, one we’ve all heard often, but it stands out in a fresh new way in the setting in which Mrs. Meissner has placed it.  “It’s not all about you.”

One of the beautiful things that Susan Meissner does in her writing is show pain for what it truly is without leaving us to writhe in it.  This story, like the last I read, has a very sad tale woven through the pages, but it has such deep beauty to that tale.  In addition, with it woven from past into present, she manages to leave the entire book on a much lighter, happier, and more hopeful note.  She may have made me a convert to historical fiction interwoven with contemporary fiction– well, at least if she is writing it.

If you liked Lady in Waiting, I cannot imagine that you wouldn’t love this story.  In my opinion it is even better– richer.  I tend not to give books five stars in my ratings, but I’m doing it on this one.  Perhaps it just happened to resonate with me in a way it normally wouldn’t.  That’s possible, I suppose.  I doubt it.  I really do think that this book is just that good.

Water Brook generously provided this book for review.  The opinions are mine.  If you’d like a chance to see if you enjoy the book as much as I did, leave a comment and let me know.


Oh, and if you’d be so kind as to rate my review at Water Brook/Multnomah, I’d appreciate it.  I do have a much broader selection these days.  I think your ratings are helping!  There’s a new book by Josh Harris that I’m dying to get my hands on.  Hope it’s there this time!


8 thoughts on “Book Review: The Shape of Mercy *Winner Announced!*

  1. OOOh, this one sounds like one I’d really enjoy reading. Chautona, I just have to say even on the books you haven’t liked your reviews are written in a way that makes me want to read the book just to find out if I agree or disagree with your assessment. To me, that’s a good review. Keep up the good work.

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