Thursday, May 19, 2016

Review: The Crooked Heart of Mercy

Summary: From acclaimed Canadian novelist Billie Livingston comes this powerful U.S. debut that unfolds over a riveting dual narrative—an unforgettable story of ordinary lives rocked by hardship and scandal that follows in the tradition of Jennifer Haigh, A. Manette Ansay, and Jennifer Egan.

Ben wakes up in a hospital with a hole in his head he can't explain. What he can remember he’d rather forget. Like how he’d spend nights as a limo driver for the wealthy and debauched….how he and his wife, Maggie, drifted apart in the wake of an unspeakable tragedy…how his little brother, Cola, got in over his head with loan sharks circling.

Maggie is alone. Again. With bills to pay and Ben in a psych ward, she must return to work. But who would hire her in the state she’s in? And just as Maggie turns to her brother, Francis, the Internet explodes with video of his latest escapade. The headline? Drunk Priest Propositions Cops.

Francis is an unlikely priest with a drinking problem and little interest in celibacy. A third DUI, a looming court date.…When Maggie takes him in, he knows he may be down to his last chance. And his best shot at healing might lie in helping Maggie and Ben reconnect—against all odds.

Simmering with dark humor and piercing insights, The Crooked Heart of Mercy is a startling reminder that redemption can be found in the most unlikely of places. -- William Morrow

THE CROOKED HEART OF MERCY by Billie Livingston wasn't really on my radar until I was looking for a book to read a few weeks ago. Granted, the cover is appealing; however it was the first paragraph of the description that got me -- "an unforgettable story of ordinary lives rocked by hardship and scandal that follows in the tradition of Jennifer Haigh..." Ms. Haigh is one of my favorite authors and a comparison to her is one of the best ways to get me to read a book.

THE CROOKED HEART OF MERCY tells the story of three individuals who are all facing pretty hard times. First, there's Ben, a man who finds himself in a psych ward with a hole in his head... and has no idea what happened. The memories he does have are upsetting to say the least. And then there's his wife Maggie. She and Ben have recently split up after a tragic event that no parents can comprehend. Finally, there's Maggie's brother Francis, a Catholic priest with a drinking problem who was recently arrested for propositioning a cop. And it was captured on feel as if  a video that has gone viral!

These three troubled souls feel as if they don't have a heck of a lot to live for, but they manage to work through their grief and eventually find hope in this bittersweet and touching novel.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed THE CROOKED HEART OF MERCY. It's a beautifully written novel with well-crafted characters. Believe me when I say, this trio is certain to remain in your thoughts long after finishing the last page of their story. There are so many wonderful things about this story, but I was most impressed with how the author took a fairly depressing story with relatively desperate characters and left me with a smile on my face and an overall sense of hope!

First, I have to stress that Ms. Livingston is truly a gifted author. She has had much success with Canadian readers, but I think she's relatively new to the U.S. audience. In THE CROOKED HEART OF MERCY, she presents three people who are at the end of their road, broken if you will; and with her elegant prose, as well as some humor, she shows how they become whole again. This book dealt with some very serious issues including alcoholism, grief, separation, father/child relationships, and more; however, as sad as it was at times, it was also funny and hopeful. What a special ability this author has to pull that off!

Ms. Livingston wrote this novel in alternating chapters through the eyes of Ben and Maggie, and she did an outstanding job of making each voice special. In addition, by introducing some interesting secondary characters including a psychiatrist, an elderly woman and a spiritual medium, she helps Ben and Maggie discover what's important to them and to heal. These characters also provided quite a few of the lighter moments in the story.

I think what made this book so special was how it represented life. There are times when we get sucker punched and think we can't go on (although I will admit that what happened to Ben and Maggie is far from typical!); however, there are people around us (some family, some friends, and some strangers) that enter our lives and help us get through these tough times. This novel also showed that grief can be all encompassing but that, with time, we can start to heal.

Naturally, I'm going to suggest that THE CROOKED HEART OF MERCY would make a wonderful book club discussion. Not only is the book a joy to read because of the author's writing, but it does touch upon so many serious issues. Some of the themes you might want to explore include memory, grief, loss, healing, marriage, addiction, faith, and redemption.

THE CROOKED HEART OF MERCY isn't always an easy novel to read because of the subject matter; however, Ms. Livingston's beautiful prose makes it a special novel... and one with some wonderful messages.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

I love dual narratives like that. This sounds outstanding!

Beth Hoffman said...

When I read the synopsis, I didn't think this book would be for me, but your review is great and has convinced me to add it to my list. Thanks, Julie!

Dorothy N said...

I have not heard of this book. But based on your great review, I am adding it to my list!

Steph said...

It's a profound, well-written novel. It's sad, heartbreaking, really, but also so beautiful and sometimes infused with Livingston's special brand of humour. I loved how rounded the characters were, how complex. And the twists. And especially the ending. Wholly satisfying for me!