Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards was originally published in 2000. My hardcover copy has 371 pages. Richards won the Giller Prize (Canada's most prestigious literary award), and the Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Award for Author of the Year and Fiction Book of the Year for Mercy Among the Children. Richards' book was on my TBR list and I decided to read it now because it was recently rejected as a book for Canada Reads and I wondered why.
Oh. My. Goodness. This is an incredible, heart breaking novel that will haunt me for years to come. The story of Sydney Henderson's family, as told by grown son Lyle, is about the price they all pay for Sydney's refusal to abandon his principles. The novel is stronger and richer because it is told from the son's point of view. It is about the nature of good and evil, and the relationship between fathers and sons. But it is unrelentingly sad. I wanted some justice for Sydney and his family. I wanted Sydney to fight back, but Richards kept Sydney true to his principles. This is a brilliant study of human nature and the selfishness and pettiness that rules the daily lives of so many people.
Mercy Among the Children is not for everyone. It is simply so sad. I was anxious for the family. I bawled like a baby several times. Many readers, like me, will also be angry at all the people in the Henderson's lives who did not speak up and take a stand. In the end, Mercy Among the Children could be a parable showing that the truth will eventually come out, although perhaps not in the expected way. Oh, it should also be mentioned that Richards is an incredibly gifted writer.
One of the best - Very Highly Recommended.
Synopsis from the Publisher:
When twelve-year-old Sydney Henderson pushes his friend Connie off the roof of a local church in a moment of anger, he makes a silent vow: Let Connie live and I will never harm another soul. At that very moment, Connie stands, laughs, and walks away. Sydney keeps his promise through adulthood despite the fact that his insular, rural community uses his pacifism to exploit him. Sydney's son Lyle, however, assumes an increasingly aggressive stance in defense of his family. When a small boy is killed in a tragic accident and Sydney is blamed, Lyle takes matters into his own hands. In his effort to protect the people he loves — his beautiful and fragile mother, Elly; his gifted sister, Autumn; and his innocent brother, Percy — it is Lyle who will determine his family's legacy.
"Lyle Henderson had a story to tell, perhaps about this very thing, and he was hoping Terrieux would listen. This was not an unusual request from the men that Terrieux knew, but was unusual for a boy of Lyle's age and demeanour. The demeanour was something seen only in youth, a kind of hopefulness in spite of it all. In spite of the blast of misfortune that would crumble lives to powder." pg. 2
"Here Lyle looked at his notes again - pages and pages of quotations and arrows. 'Everything I relate is true. It is what I have witnessed and what has been told to me - the conversations of others even when I was not present are very near to being exactly what they were, told to me by those who remembered them first-hand, or talked to someone who knew. It has taken me almost seven years to piece together what it was all about, and I want to set it before you now. Maybe you can write about it, as a former policeman, just for interest sake, and maybe you can expose the Mat Pits of the world.' " pg. 6
"I often wanted to enter the world of the stained glass - to find myself walking along the purple roads, with the Mount of Olives behind me. I suppose I wanted to be good, and my mother wanted goodness for me. I wanted to escape the obligation I had toward my own destiny, my family, my sister and brother who were more real to me than a herd of saints." pg. 11
"What surprised him was the fact that an educated man would ever do this. He had been innocent enough to assume that the educated had excised all prejudice from themselves and would never delight in injury to others - that is, he believed that they had easily attained the goal he himself was struggling toward. He did not know that this goal - which he considered the one truthful goal man should strive toward - was often not even considered a goal by others, educated or not." pg. 21
"What my father believed from the time his own father died was this: whatever pact you make with God, God will honour. You may not think He does, but then do you really know the pact you have actually made? Understand the pact you have made, and you will understand how God honours it." pg. 22
"Worse for her social welfare, she saw miracles - in trees, in flowers, in insects in the field, especially butterflies, in cow's milk, in sugar, in clouds of rain, in dust, in snow, and in the thousands of sweet midnight stars." pg. 23
"There is a second group, the group that you and I belong to. The group that says that in a man's heart is the only truth that matters. You cannot change a constant by changing how the rules might be applied to this constant." pg. 36
" 'Don't worry - truth will out,' Sydney said.
They continued their walk, not understanding how evil and darkness attach themselves to the good or great to destroy their will to live." pg. 72
"I remember him now as a man who had no idea of the responsibility or maturity his vocation required." pg. 225
I read this in January and there was so much to discuss in a review that I found it difficult to write. I had many of the same feelings you did.
Here's my take: Sidney was acting as Jesus would, the ideal perfect life of do no harm.
I was more mad at the other people in the community than at Sidney. He tried to lived his life and other people were so terrible, for no reason other than that he was passive.
It's a book that stays with you long after you read it, and it's too bad it was the first to go from Canada Reads, more people should read it.
Great thoughts raidergirl3... More people should read this book.
It WAS a difficult book to comment about or review. Mercy could be a parable with Sydney compared to Jesus. I was also angry at the whole community for not taking a stand for what they knew was right - but even Peter denied Jesus 3 times. Still, I am frustrated that his family suffered for his principles.
This book will stay with me for a long time.
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