Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Crooked Heart of Mercy

The Crooked Heart of Mercy by Billie Livingston
HarperCollins: 3/8/16
review copy; 272 pages
trade paperback ISBN-13: 9780062413772

The Crooked Heart of Mercy by Billie Livingston is a very highly recommended novel about broken, disenfranchised people trying to recover. I'm not saying this gem is an easy book to read. It's not. The characters are heartbroken, suffering, grieving, depressed, and fragile working class people who must find a way back from an unthinkable accident. The Crooked Heart of Mercy is a great title for an unforgettable book.

Ben and Maggie were happily married, toiling away at their jobs to make ends meet and take care of their two year old son, Frankie. Maggie cleaned houses and ran errands for elderly women. Ben drove a limousine at night for wealthy tourists.  When the unimaginable happens and Frankie dies by accident, they are left to cope with their brokenness and grief. Understandably, this puts a strain on their marriage and the two separate while trying to find a way to mourn Frankie through their grief and depression. To add to their individual stress, they both have siblings who need help from them and Ben has a father in failing health who needs assistance.

At the beginning of The Crooked Heart of Mercy Ben wakes up in a psychiatric hospital in a dissociative state after what appears to have been a suicide attempt. He can't even say that he is Ben. Maggie knows she needs to try and get some work again, but it is hard to not break into tears over the littlest things that remind her of Frankie. If these two can recover and salvage their marriage, they will have plenty of scars to add to their already existing scars.

It could be easy to harshly judge these broken people, sitting from a safe, secure, stable situation. From my perspective, and perhaps that is based on age and life experiences, that critical judgement would be unwise. Mercy is required. A measure of sympathy needs to be extended as these people strive to come to terms with grief, mourning, and how hard it is to forgive. Life can be fragile, accidents happen, people make mistakes, and sometimes their mistakes appear foolish. But the death of a child is a grief from which it is said you never really recover.

Livingston does an excellent job telling this poignant story in the alternating voices of Ben and Maggie, exploring both their present and past. The characters of Ben and Maggie are both well developed. Ben's voice, in the beginning, can be challenging to follow because he is in the dissociative state and won't admit he is Ben or come to terms with everything that has happened. His early chapters focus on his sessions with his psychiatrist. Maggie's voice, while often heart breaking, is also funny, resilient, and determined. Only the most merciless could make it through Maggie's description of feeling Frankie in her lap without shedding a tear and feeling great sympathy and compassion for her.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from HarperCollins for review purposes.


1 comment:

Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

Considering my initial gut reaction to the circumstances of this story I'll be sure to keep a tissues handy as I read because I know my feelings will be all over the place.

Thanks for being a part of the tour!