By: Susan Meissner
A friend of mine gave me The Shape of Mercy to read because she knows how much I enjoy historical fiction.
I had low expectations. The cover makes it look like a teen read, maybe good but not great.
But two chapters in, and I was rethinking this.
This novel is about a college-aged girl named Lauren who gets a job transcribing the diary of a woman named Mercy Hayworth, who was accused of being a witch during the Salem Witch Trials. She works for an elderly woman named Abigail Boyles, and Lauren’s task turns out to be much more than simple transcription as she gets more and more involved in Mercy’s life as well as Abigail’s.
There’s also a bunch of stuff in there about her breaking free from her parents and about life disappointments and about prejudice and about love and about race and about God.
I could’ve done without a lot of the plot, but the best part of this book is Meissner’s ability to interweave past with present. There are really three “presents” in this novel: the present of Mercy’s diary in the Salem Witch Trials in the 1600s, the present of Abigail’s youth in the mid-1900s, and the present of Lauren’s narration.
There are the obvious transitions between the written entries of Mercy’s diary and the first-person perspective of Lauren, but Meissner is able to do much more than that. These three women are connected in ways beyond a diary, and their thoughts begin to bleed into one another’s.
My favorite part of this book is the historicity. I don’t know much about the accuracy of it, but I think it’s a wonderfully fascinating idea: a handwritten, in-the-moment account of the Salem Witch Trials by someone who was herself convicted. It’s thrilling.
Towards the end of this novel, it becomes like a bad movie drama with improbable actions and coincidences and overly dramatic scenarios.
But, for the most part, this novel is a wonderful look at selflessness and love and the Witch Trials. It’s a great way to contextualize this historical event that can sometimes seem so crazy as to be fake.
And it’s an homage to book lovers like you and me.
If you enjoyed The Shape of Mercy, here are some other great books:
(for other books by Meissner)
Lady in Waiting by Susan Meissner
A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner
Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner
(for historical fiction about women)
Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland
Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende
(for novels about financial prejudice)
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver
Changes That Heal by Henry Cloud
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
The Once and Future King by T. H. White
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi