The Mercy Rule

The Mercy Rule

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 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780547237848
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 06/13/2011
Pages: 286
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About 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.

Read an Excerpt

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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.

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The Mercy Rule 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
jenn_stringer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I thought she hit the internal dialogue that goes on in a working mother's head just right.
voracious on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Dr. Lucy Weiss is a mom, a pediatrician to at-risk, low SES families, and an advocate for foster children. As she herself was "rescued" from foster care and adopted by her teacher, she feels it is her mission to try to save as many children as she can from the disruptive, often abusive conditions that children experience in the system. The marked contrast between Lucy's current life with her children in private school and her husband a university professor and the harsh reality that she deals with in her work becomes the stage where Lucy's struggles play out. While this novel is not highly action oriented, it is interesting to watch Lucy ponder larger philosophical and political questions about the role of the government in protecting kids from abusive and neglectful homes. Lucy's anger at the system, a supposedly well-meaning system, is palpable, as she confronts the problems of continually changing and unseasoned child caseworkers who keep returning kids to bad circumstances due to their lack of experience and naivity about chronic adults.For me, this book was very personal, as I am a child clinical psychologist working with the same families and same systems that Lucy addresses. I share her passion and outrage at this system and it was affirming to see that Dr. Klass feels the same way. This is a topic that it seems few people really understand as children are put in harm's way every day, in an effort to "preserve families" but at the cost of abuse, neglect, and sometimes death of these kids, who have no voice or resources to protect themselves from people who often have no business having kids at all. The only concern I had about this book (taking it from 5 stars to 4.5) is that it drove me crazy that the book went back and forth from first person to third person narration without any particular pattern! Arrggh!!! Otherwise, I LOVED IT!
lafincoff on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not bad not bad. A few points I felt like the author was speaking directly to the reader, which is always interesting when I spot that in a fiction novel, and she wasn't preaching, but didn't grip me, so to speak. The descriptions of the lives of poor people was very accurate in a few places, particularily the not receiving blocked calls part. The venomous thoughts of the main character were shocking initially, and I nearly put the book down at them, but it had its place, because I could see on the second level that she deliberately included it as part of the characterization and development of the characters. While I usually cheer on the dissection of self deceit, it was a little too real, but she included enough removal not to make it nauseating, more like honest reporting of the behavior of wildlife in its native habitat.
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