The Shape of Mercy
by Susan Meissner
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥ (MUST READ!)
(From Mercy’s Diary)
If I had not promised my papa I would attend, I would not have been anywhere near Gallows Hill today. I would not have heard the sound of the ropes pulling taut, the anguish in the throats of the innocent, or the awful silence when the ropes went still. I would have been in my tree writing a story about water nymphs and secret treasure. I would not have to wonder how to cleanse my mind of the five swinging bodies, the relaxed feet, the tilted heads, the slow swinging back and forth. God, help me.
Mercy Hayworth – A sweet girl of 18, imaginative, caring, newly in love – and soon to be accused of being a witch. She comes vividly to life through her diary, still intact and passed down through the generations to Abigail.
Abigail Boyles – Abigail is 83, starting to feel time slipping away from her, and has no daughter or trusted family to pass Mercy’s diary on to. The diary is very old, falling apart, and nearly indecipherable in areas. It is time to have the diary transcribed, but until now there has been no one that Abigail felt was the right person. Somehow, she knows Lauren is the one.
Lauren Durough – Born into a life of privilege, Lauren has never wanted for anything, never gone without. But now she wants to strike out on her own, get a job, and support herself while attending college. She finds a unique part-time job transcribing Mercy’s diary for Abigail. Very quickly, it becomes much more to Lauren than just a job.
Moving, haunting, compelling. Three words that describe this wonderful book, which is now a keeper on my bookshelf. Susan Meissner did her job a little too well, if that’s even possible. The horror and heartbreak of the Salem Witch Trials was brought to life for me in a way I’ve never before experienced. Oh, I knew the history – but in a detached, factual way. After reading The Shape of Mercy, I was able to see how it would truly have felt to be a part of that history: terrified for myself, afraid to lose a member of my family, afraid to leave my home, wondering what kind of madness this was, wondering where God was hiding Himself. That last evokes a lot of emotion – the experience would have tested my faith in a huge and new way. I just can’t believe that all of that really happened, that people could be imprisoned and hanged based on accusations in a fear-driven society.
The main theme of this story is love, and choices. Not a love-at-first-sight kind of love, but a sacrificial, unselfish, true love. Lauren and Abigail are each affected in different ways by the love demonstrated in Mercy’s diary, which was heartbreaking and bittersweet. It was too real – sometimes I forgot I was reading fiction, though of course it was not far from what a young girl like Mercy would have felt and thought at that time. I was also able to relate to Lauren’s struggles. I felt for her as she searched her mind and heart and Mercy’s diary, trying to find herself and figure out what life is really about.
I did not want The Shape of Mercy to end.* It. Was. Amazing. Without a doubt my best read this year, at least when it comes to most memorable and cared-for characters. The settings, both present-day and historical Salem, were rich and vivid. I loved the description of Abigail’s library, and when I read that Lauren was reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn I knew I would have to read it, too. There are so many layers to this book, it’s one that you’ll want to pick up and read again and again. I can assure you I will be reading this again, and finding author Susan Meissner’s other books as soon as possible!
*Hey, wait! It doesn’t have to end! Awesome author Susan Meissner has created a blog that continues the story with posts by characters Abigail, Lauren, Clarissa (Lauren’s roommate), Esperanza (Abigail’s housekeeper), and even newly discovered writings by Mercy! I was so thrilled when I discovered this! Go check it out once you’ve read The Shape of Mercy!
And if you want to read the first chapter, I found it HERE. :-)