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Award-winning Canadian writer David Adams Richards now brings Americans his gentle and beautiful saga of family, love, and courage in this poignant novel.
Sidney Henderson is an outcast in the rural Canadian mill town in which he has lived out his life. Committed to a pact he made with God never to raise his hand or voice to another living soul, Sidney is no match for the jealous, greedy, and conniving neighbors around him. His goodness, his love of books, and his determination to turn the other cheek, regardless of the cost, are confusing and threatening to them, and they regularly take advantage of his good nature. But his fellow townsfolk are especially incensed when Elly, one of the most beautiful and desirable young women in the community, chooses Sidney as her husband.
In Mercy Among the Children, the story of Sidney's love for his wife and two children, and of the price he must pay for refusing
to abandon his principles, is told by Lyle, Sidney's grown son. A child who had initially renounced his father's values and who later struggled to understand and appreciate them, his point of view makes Richards' novel as much a story about the relationship between fathers and sons as it is about the nature of good and evil.
Sidney and Elly are two of the most gracious and compassionate characters we've yet to encounter in contemporary literature. And their engrossing story of loss and strength is one that haunts.
(Fall 2001 Selection)
Mercy Among the Children is a major novel precisely because it disavows concern for the structure of things in any one place and time in favour of the structure of things for all places nad times. Literary fashions be damned; her is a fictional universe, fiercely imagined and brilliantly rendered, and everyone is welcome into it.
In its depth of feeling and fierce drive, Mercy Among the Children makes even the best of contemporary novels seem forced and pallid.
David Adams Richards is perhaps the greatest Canadian writer alive ... Although Mercy Among the Children is unrelentingly tragic, as with most great tragedies the undertone is one of boundless hope.
Wit and acuity mark out this Canadian writer of unaffected, unsentimental integrity.
A wrenching, soaring read ... It compels the reader to ponder the cruelty and grace of our relationships with each other and with an invisible unknowable God.
Globe and Mail
Mercy Among the Children is a major novel precisely because it disavows concern for the structure of things in any one place and time in favour of the structure of things for all places and times.
With Mercy Among the Children, David Adams Richards assures his place among the CanLit canon as one of this country’s greatest authors. Unrelenting, bleak and grim, the novel delivers its story with the force of an old testament prophet. Richards’s voice is consistently powerful as he relates this heartbreaking tale of generational poverty and abuse.
His voice is one of the most powerful and necessary to be found in Canadian fiction.
Mercy Among the Children explores major issues with passion and high seriousness. It aims for the heart, not the head. If you give yourself to the experience of reading it, it will reward you.
Richards makes a concentrated commitment to his plot and to his characters, who carry the book upward. It is passionately informed with his love and hate. He has a visceral belief in his story, and he never relents. His knowledge of the mind of evil is impressive.
Mercy Among the Children is a masterpiece.
Kitchener- Waterloo Record
It’s time to declare David Adams Richards Canada’s greatest living writer. The reason for this assertion is simple: Of all the country’s best writers he is the one who has steadfastly set out to do what all great writers do — define what it is to be human. And he has done this through a voice uniquely his own, influenced by neither literary taste nor reader fashion….His latest novel Mercy Among the Children is not only his most ambitious, it’s as close to a masterpiece as he has yet written.
Unrecognized yet in the States, Canadian author Richards should win new readers here with this stark and affecting novel. A working man living in a shack in the "Stumps," an area of New Brunswick dependent on timber and tourism, Sydney Henderson has the unfortunate knack of arousing hostility among his neighbors by the unconscious display of his virtues. As a child, he was beaten by his father, sexually abused by his priest and once nearly killed a playmate. Out of such experiences he has forged a Tolstoyan moral credo, educating himself in literature and art and refusing to meet violence with violence. When Sydney marries Elly Brown, who is judged too beautiful to be matched with the town's poverty-stricken outcast, the scapegoating gets worse. Rebuffed by Elly when he attempts to rape her, a vindictive Stumps resident joins a scheme that eventually causes Sydney to be blamed for crimes he hasn't committed, including manslaughter and child abuse. The novel is narrated by Sydney's son, Lyle, who, in opposition to his father's stoic pacifism, craves revenge. In trying to exact it, he becomes feared, but is inwardly polluted. Worse, he injures those he loves most. The dogged narration takes some time to acquire dramatic tension, but eventually its unflagging rhythm becomes addictive. Though some readers may recoil from the book's frank depiction of pervasive poverty, Richards shows how powerfully the novel can operate as a mode of moral exploration a fact sometimes forgotten in the age of postmodern irony. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
There are few heroes and little cheer in this bleak novel set on the shores of the Miramichi River, where herbicides used by the local mill owner have leaked into the water, causing serious illness, miscarriages, and birth defects. Amid a cast of miscreants a rich, powerful landowner, self-righteous academics, manipulative bureaucrats, and condescending do-gooders Sydney Henderson stands out as a paragon of virtue among the exploited poor. Severely abused as a child, Sydney retreats into a world of books as solace from the grinding poverty, disregard for his self-education, false accusations of theft and murder, and outrageous government demands for payment of back taxes. But his stoic silence and his refusal to defend himself or exact revenge against his tormenters extend the poverty and ignominy to his long-suffering wife and children. Readers with sufficient fortitude for unrelenting misery and despair will find rewards in a harrowing and powerful novel that has already received Canada's prestigious Giller Prize for fiction. Recommended for all public libraries. Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
A commitment to nonviolence provokes a lengthening history of violent and destructive reprisals in Toronto author Richards's thoughtful, unfortunately portentous tenth novel, which shared Canada's Giller Prize with Ondaatje's Anil's Ghost. The intense narrative is framed by a Prologue and Afterword in which 25-year-old Lyle Henderson, a native of rural New Brunswick's Miramichi River towns, grapples with the legacy of his father Sydney's saintly passivity. We soon learn (from Lyle) that as a boy Sydney had impulsively pushed another boy off a church roof, and thereafter (seeing his "victim" unharmed) vowed to God that he would never harm another human being. Richards's backward-and-forward narrative, whose major events occur throughout the 1970s and early '80s, gradually discloses the paradoxical harm occasioned by Sydney's resolute pacifism: he's accused (falsely) of robbery, arson, sabotaging a newly built bridge, fathering an illegitimate child, and neighbors inflict abuse and worse as well on his docile wife Elly, gentle albino daughter Autumn and Christlike innocent son Percy, as well as on their increasingly frustrated sibling Lyle. Do bad things happen to good people? Oh, they do, gentle reader, they do. If you think all of this sounds like Dostoevsky filtered through Hardy and early D.H. Lawrence, you're not far afield. The best confrontational moments here do achieve genuine drama, and the large cast accommodates several vividly drawn eccentrics and malcontents (the best being the casually satanic Mat Pit, the Hendersons' tireless mortal enemy). But Richards overloads the story with far too many windy debates about religion and ethics, and can't resist making broadcaricatures of such peripheral figures as wealthy industrialist Leo McIver and ingenuous social worker Deirdre Whyne (!). Even worse are such thinly disguised authorial interpolations as Lyle's grandiose ham-fisted characterization of evil Mat Pit: "He-from a certain perspective-ruled our road and took that precious air from everyone else's dreams." Mercy Among the Children is of interest for the rugged integrity of its conception, design, and emotional intensity. Its prose is another story.
Read an Excerpt
When twelve-year-old Sidney 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. Sidney keeps his promise through adulthood despite the fact that his insular, rural community uses his pacifism to exploit him. Sidney'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 Sidney 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.