Review: MERCY AMONG THE CHILDREN by David Adams Richards

Another Canada Reads 2009 contender (I recently blogged about another one called The Outlander) that I read for my book club. And unlike The Outlander, I did not like this one.

Taking place in rural New Brunswick during the 1980’s and 90’s, the story follows the Henderson family as they eke out a meager living from trapping and working for the local bigwig, Leo McVicer. Sidney Henderson and Connie Devlin were twelve when they were shoveling snow off the roof of the local church and began arguing and the ensuing fight resulted in Connie falling and Sydney thinking that he’s dead. He wasn’t but in the time it took for Sydney to realize Connie was okay, Sydney promised God that he would never do another thing to harm another human. Making that promise was much harder to live with than it seemed at the time. The rest of the book deals with the challenges Sydney, his wife and children face as they deal with the repercussions of this oath.

I read this novel for my book club – there’s no way I’d have finished it otherwise. It’s so bleak – it’s worse than depressing. I can take the poverty, but the child abuse and neglect, no. The characters were at various times cowardly, weak-kneed, fundamentally evil, selfish, spineless, pathetic, helpless, etc. The few that did do something kind for another person seemed to be motivated by guilt rather than any altruistic sensibility. And really, do bad things actually happen that often to people or are they offset even occasionally by good things?

This book won the Giller Prize in 2000. Those judges must love wallowing in misery. Don’t get me wrong – the writing is good and the story is told well. But it’s like constantly picking the scab from a wound – it never gets better and sometimes even becomes infected, but you can’t stop picking even if it’s painful. Well, this whole book was one gaping wound. But hey, some people just love this kind of book – I’m just not one of them.


bermudaonion on April 20, 2009 at 10:48 AM said...

I would have to be in the right frame of mind to read that one.

avisannschild on April 20, 2009 at 12:17 PM said...

Wow, this doesn't sound like my cup of tea at all! How would you say it compares to Fall on Your Knees in terms of bleakness? I'm unsure about reading that book because I've been warned about its bleakness too.

Myckyee on April 20, 2009 at 11:10 PM said...

Hi Bermudaonion - yes, definitely. But maybe that was problem with this one, I didn't really want to read it.

Hi Avis - I told someone today how much I loathed this book and she said it was a favourite of hers!

Fall on your Knees was an incredibly disturbing book but I still liked it compared to this one. It was not bleak in the same way that Mercy is - which is to say unrelenting. Also, the main character in Mercy is unlikeable and I wouldn't say that about Fall on Your Knees (though it's been a while now since I read it).

An Anonymous Child on April 21, 2009 at 12:00 AM said...

I don't know, but this isn't seeming too horrible. I've been trying to read books with different characters recently, particularly trying to see what books manage to create good negative, unlikable characters. Still, I'll keep in mind that you didn't like this. It could also just be a pretty bad book.

avisannschild on April 22, 2009 at 12:38 PM said...

Thank you! I'm still unsure about FOYK, but we'll see. My sister is adamant that I shouldn't read it (and my dad disrecommended it too). I do find it much harder to read (and enjoy) books where the main character is unsympathetic.


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