The Mercy Rule

The Mercy Rule

4.0 2
by Perri Klass

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At first glance, Dr. LucyWeiss looks like a typical high-achieving, upper-middle-class working mother who is raising two children in the suburbs with her husband. But having overcome a difficult childhood in foster care, Lucy knows firsthand what it is like to grow up in the margins. Now a pediatrician, she finds herself working with at-risk patients and their


At first glance, Dr. LucyWeiss looks like a typical high-achieving, upper-middle-class working mother who is raising two children in the suburbs with her husband. But having overcome a difficult childhood in foster care, Lucy knows firsthand what it is like to grow up in the margins. Now a pediatrician, she finds herself working with at-risk patients and their families. Every day she must decide whether a parent’s actions are so incompetent — or so clueless — that a child is in danger. As she moves between her disparate worlds — from worrying about her own daughter enduring the social pressures of adolescence to worrying about parents struggling with drugs and impossible living situations — Lucy must judge herself as a parent, critique other parents, and also deal with the echoes of her childhood.Through it all, she keeps the balance with humor and sympathy. The Mercy Rule is a compassionate and funny novel sure to resonate with those who know the joys and challenges of taking care of children.

Editorial Reviews

Ron Charles
Perri Klass is a practicing pediatrician who understands the murky risks of judging a mother's care. The Mercy Rule, her sixth work of fiction, is an insightful novel in stories about a doctor who runs a clinic in Boston for children who are in state custody—or about to be…As a doctor, Klass must know the body inside and out; these stories show that, as a writer, she knows the heart and soul just as well.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Klass (Treatment Kind and Fair) again explores the dramas, large and small, of parenting and medicine in an enjoyable if nearly plotless novel. A former foster child who was adopted by her sixth-grade teacher, Lucy Weiss is a pediatrician at a clinic specializing in foster kids. Lucy's deep (and occasionally unprofessional) devotion to her work brings her into contact and conflict with mothers like charismatic Delia, who eventually abandons her three kids-each named after one of the Von Trapp children. In Lucy's own family, her somewhat absent professor husband begs off of birthday party and soccer duties, leaving her as primary parent to precocious 10-year-old Isabel and possibly autistic six-year-old Freddy. Freddy's difficulties (an obsession with statistics and numbers, and stunted social abilities among them) are a recurring but unresolved thread, while an ethically questionable decision Lucy makes regarding Delia's kids lacks punch. The characters are wonderfully drawn-Lucy's angst is palpable throughout-and though there isn't much of a story arc, the heartfelt portrayal of contemporary parenting is involving, particularly so for readers who work with children. (July)

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Kirkus Reviews
Pediatrician Klass (The Mystery of Breathing, 2004, etc.) offers a mild, episodic novel about a tough but warmhearted pediatrician whose life as a doctor, wife and mother is informed by her own childhood in foster care. Lucy and her English professor husband Greg are the doting suburban parents of socially astute ten-year-old Isabel and intellectually brilliant but socially awkward six-year-old Freddy. Lucy is fiercely protective of her children, particularly sensitive Freddy. But when she's not driving Lucy to soccer or Freddy to birthday parties, she is running a clinic in Boston treating poor, neglected and abused children, many placed in foster care. Raised in the foster system herself until a favorite English teacher adopted her, Lucy strongly identifies with her patients and has difficulty separating her family life from her work. Instead of an evolving plot, there are slice-of-Lucy's life incidents. Traveling to California to give a medical lecture, she becomes entangled with a 12-year-old boy whose braininess reminds her of Freddy and whose neglectful father reminds her that wealth does not ensure good parenting. On a family beach vacation, she obsesses about a news story concerning murdered kids in Boston. At her children's private school, of which she is often wittily if self-righteously disdaining, a parent asks Lucy's help in blocking a supposedly bogus abuse charge. A charming but irresponsible mother abandons her children at Lucy's clinic, then briefly steals them back before willingly relinquishing them for good with Lucy's guidance. Greg confesses a brief infidelity, only making the bonds of his marriage to Lucy stronger. Similarly, although Isabel gets mildly annoyed withLucy at times, she and gentle genius Freddy prove to be the supersmart, superloving kids other parents don't want to hear bragged about. Lucy, sometimes likable if overbearing, is a bit too perfect to connect to readers. Klass plays it too safe here, with wise cracks and glib feel-good moments replacing real drama and self-exploration.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

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"Look, please, I’m serious,” says Greg. "I’ll do anything. I’ll clean out the refrigerator. I’ll take your car in to be serviced—how’s that? Your inspection sticker runs out next month—I’ll get you a new one. Deal?” Lucy would never be able to tell him this without feeling silly, but it is one of those mornings, increasingly rare, when she feels beautiful and graceful in all she does. All her adult life, these mornings have come to her unexpectedly, maybe in the heartburn-ridden seventh month of pregnancy, maybe halfway through a dreary business trip to Philadelphia, and now today. She woke this morning to the sweet, slightly chilly air of a Saturday in late October, of fall in New England at its lightest and loveliest, full of change and possibility, and she rose from her bed, L.L. Bean ski pajamas and all, like the swan queen, like Princess Aurora, like the sugar plum freaking fairy. In another time and place and life, she would have gone after Greg, who tends to wake early, even on weekends, and she would have dragged him away from whatever stage of coffee preparation, since he is one of those buy- special-beans-and-keep-them- in-the-freezer-and-store-them-only-in-glass-and- grind-them-right- before-you-turn-on-your-two-hundred-dollar-machine fanatics. She would have hauled him back to bed, coffee-smelling fingers and all, and it would not be the first time in their marriage that she would have remarked on the similarities between that coffee smell and certain aromas that at certain moments can be inhaled in the general vicinity of his crotch. But that, among many other things, is absolutely and completely out of the question when the ten-year-old is already up and searching loudly for her shin guards and her cleats and demanding of the world whether anyone, anyone, anyone, has thought to wash her soccer team T-shirt. And the six-year-old, who has already poured muesli over most of the kitchen table, heaping it into hills and valleys according to some topological map in his mind, is aware that today is a birthday party day—although, to be honest, almost every Saturday is a goddamn birthday party day.
So here is Lucy, washed and brushed and dressed, mopping up the muesli with a paper towel and still feeling beautiful and graceful. She grabs the cereal box and holds it open at the side of the kitchen table, nudges the muesli over the edge and back into the waiting box. Why not?—tomorrow Freddy can pour it all out again. Why spend $4.79 on a new box, she thinks, folding the top fl aps closed and noting the price, and why can’t we buy him Rice Krispies if he’s just going to pour it out on the table and play with it?
"Net wt four hundred grams,” Freddy reads off the same box, pronouncing it to sound like "nitwit.” It’s one of his favorite terms. "That’s not quite one point two cents per gram.” Greg is standing at the refrigerator, holding it open, surveying the mess. "How about this one?” he asks. "Four half-used bottles of ketchup, all vintage within the last three years—we think. For the last several decades, the Heinz Company has been making a remarkably consistent tomato product at their secret hydroponic family tomato patch. Hold your own ketchup races! Decorate your French fries! You have to taste it to believe it! No longer sold in stores because this vintage is past its expiration date. Opening bid: thirty-five cents.” "I thought we said I’m doing soccer,” Lucy says. "And if I’m doing soccer, you’re doing the party.” "I’ll do soccer,” Greg promises. "I tell you, I’ll do anything.” "You can’t do soccer,” Lucy starts to say, but is preempted by her daughter, Isabel, who comes dramatically into the kitchen dressed in soccer shorts, shin guards, athletic socks, cleats, and the wrong T-shirt. Or rather, the right T-shirt in the wrong size; this is Isabel’s last year on Fuchsia, and she has on the now much-too-small T-shirt that she wore her first year, when she was only eight, and it does nothing for her, most particularly for her chest, about which she is increasingly self-conscious anyway.
"You can’t do soccer!” she says, sharply, to her father, and then to her mother, accusingly, "You didn’t wash my shirt!” "Yes I did,” Lucy says. "I bet it’s still in the dryer.” And she ducks into the laundry room, as Isabel says reproachfully to Greg, "You can’t ever do soccer againn, annnnd you better not try. Not ever.” "Honey, I’m sorry,” Greg is saying, as Lucy leans into the dryer and disentangles the newer, brighter, bigger Fuchsia team shirt from the railroad train sheets and pillowcase that had to be washed after Freddy’s last birthday party and the subsequent nighttime stomach upset. Okay, one small thing done right: Isabel has her shirt. Lucy returns to the kitchen in maternal triumph; Isabel snatches the shirt and hurries off to lock herself in her room, pull down her shade, draw her curtains, and make the switch. Greg shrugs apologetically at Lucy. "You really think I’m banned for good?” "I don’t know, honey. But I think we better give it a few weeks at least. Joe Winnicutt takes this kind of thing pretty seriously.” "Asshole. Ripe, fl aming, self-congratulatory investment banking asshole.” Greg takes a jar of ginger marmalade from the refrigerator and stands it on the kitchen counter, pushing aside last night’s unwashed glasses. He has an open bag of pretzel sticks, and he begins dipping them, one by one, into the cold, pale yellow jam, then crunching them in his mouth.
Last Saturday, Greg was asked to leave the girls’ soccer game. He had violated the no-bad-language-on-the-sidelines law, or perhaps the parents-may-not-say-negative-things-about-the-other-team law, or so ruled Fuchsia’s head coach, Joe Winnicutt, father of Vanessa and Adriana, the platonic ideal, blond, high-scoring fifth-grade offense star, who has been known to burst into perfectionist tears if she misses a shot, and the platonic ideal, blond, up-and- coming third-grade defense stalwart, who has single- footedly protected some of the team’s most incompetent goalies. It is devoutly hoped by some, by Greg at least, and therefore loyally by Lucy, that any day now Joe Winnicutt is going to be indicted for securities fraud, but at this point it looks as if he may at least make it through the soccer season. Anyway, Greg did point out in his own defense that he had used no obscenities at all and had not actually said anything bad about the other team—Teal, it happened to be last week. Greg said—and has said it too many times—that it was meant to be funny, that he just got carried away with all those flowery, old-fashioned girls’ names. From Give it to them, Georgina, and Get in there and fight, Vanessa, he had, he admitted, progressed to Smash ’em good, Cecilia, and That’s right, Adriana, kill! kill! kill! Girls’ soccer, he pleaded to Lucy in private, will do that to you.
So no, he can’t do soccer. Isabel, as she has made abundantly clear, is already quite embarrassed enough—only a little less so because the week before last, Celeste’s mother, the chiropractor, was told by the referee that she could come to future games only if she kept her mouth shut, not to mention that back at the very first game of the season, Georgina’s father, a reasonably prominent modern composer, got into a fistfight with the father of a girl on Jade, and both dads were banned for the rest of the season. But now Greg is trapped: not allowed to go with Isabel to soccer, and he still wants to get out of the Freddy-birthday-party as well, and he’s pleading his usual excuse about a graduate student dissertation to read and an article of his own to be edited and checked over—but really, Lucy knows, it’s because he hadn’t looked closely at the invitation till now—he didn’t know what particular kind of awful this day had in store.
"Please,” Greg says again. He offers her a pretzel dipped in ginger marmalade, and she opens her mouth, accepting this particular mix of crunch and salt and spice and sweet in place of all she would have liked from him this morning.

Meet the Author

DR. PERRI KLASS is the award-winning author of eleven works of fiction and nonfiction, including Love and Modern Medicine and Other Women’s Children. She is a pediatrician and teaches journalism and pediatrics at New York University. Klass is also the medical director of the national literacy program Reach Out and Read, dedicated to promoting literacy as part of pediatric primary care. She lives in New York.

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The Mercy Rule 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
ddj73 More than 1 year ago
Well, Ms. Klass, to answer your protaganist's musing on page 169 (".........those are presumably the full-time moms, though what the f____ they are going to do with the rest of the day, when the assembly is over, Lucy has never been able to quite figure out") We take care of our children, our homes, ourselves and our extended family. We don't have nearly as much time as Lucy to fantasize about alternatives or to gloss over the obvious fact that our child is at least borderline autistic.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
highly reccommend