In the Inspirational novel The Shape of Mercy, author Susan Meissner's masterful use of the central theme of judgement, as well as her ability to develop the internal conflict of her characters for the reader, make this spell-binding page turner a fabulous summer read!
Meissner draws the reader into the private challenges of three generations of women whose stories are told in a combination of present day narrative as well as through a 400 year old journal. The historical accuracy is spot on and the journal entries are riveting.
The book opens with Lauren Durough, a privileged young college student taking a transcription job from Abigail Boyle, an 83 year old eccentric, to prove to her father that she doesn't need him or the family money to live her life as she wishes.
"The thing is, I don’t want my destiny handed to me. I want to choose it. This is the treasure the impoverished forget they have: the ability to choose a new road. They may struggle all their lives to stay on it, but at least they chose it for themselves… …When you only do what is expected of you, you never learn what you would’ve done had you chosen for yourself."
As the plot unfolds both Abigail and Lauren are convicted at different times of how judgemental they are of others. Abigail holds shame in her heart for how she treated the true love of her life before walking away from him. Lauren keeps bucking up against her inability to see the individual without judging the "outside" package-things are not always as they seem.
Mercy Hawthorne is a Quaker living in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. Her diary explores the daily life of the seventeen year-old as she cares for her ill father and falls in love for the first time. She loves to write and besides the diary, keeps a book of stories about fairies and fantastical creatures. She is the odd woman out in 1692 and begins to see that this may eventually contribute to her demise. As she bears witness to Abigail and Lauren of the truth behind the hysteria of the Salem Witch Trails, both woman are drawn into the injustice of Mercy's situation.
Meissner gives us a unique inside perspective of this tumultuous time in our nation's history. There are unexpected twists and turn in both 1692 as well as the present time. I could not put this book down. I needed to know what happened to Mercy and how it would affect Abigail's and Laurens perspective of their own journeys.
*Spoiler Alert* Then came the biggest twist of all. Mercy is accused of being a "witch" and is imprisoned. The reader is pulled into her anguish and disbelief. Lauren and Abigail are devastated 400 years later and frustrated with not being able to affect the outcome. They clearly see how the mass hysteria at the time took over from common sense.
The night before she is to be hanged in the public square Mercy hangs herself in her cell in order to save her beau from being accused of sympathising with a "witch" and being arrested and punished himself.She offers herself for the life of another, leaving behind a letter explaining why. A bold move on behalf of the author, especially considering this is an "inspirational novel". However in her defense, she has revealed Mercy's heart so clearly, instead of anger, I felt overwhelming sadness for her.
Mercy made the mistake of not trusting her Redeemer with her fate and the fate of her beloved. While I empathise with why Mercy would do this, as a Catholic I cannot condone it in any way, even as a reader. Taking one's life is a mortal sin and separates one from God for eternity. That said, Our Lord is merciful and I have no idea if she repented before she took her last breath. I am just sad that she chose not to trust in God's providence.
Mercy's lack of trust in God in 1692 greatly affects Lauren and Abigail in 2008. They both make huge changes in their lives so they don't repeat the mistakes of their pasts. Not only did Mercy "save" her beloved, but she also "saved" Abigail and Lauren.
I highly recommend this novel because of this bold statement by Meissner.This novel has started many a conversation between myself and many of my writing friends in the past few weeks on the topic of trust in God, no matter what situation He allows in your life. This book demonstrates the power of the written word to generate dialogue about difficult topics. Meissner provides a tremendous opportunity for discussion and reflection about judgement and trust in God's providence. It's a powerful read. Well done Susan!
*As a surprise, Susan has offered to send a signed special edition ARC (advanced reading copy) for one lucky reader. So please comment on this post and I will randomly draw a name this Sunday (7/12).