The Shape of Mercy: A Novel

The Shape of Mercy: A Novel

by Susan Meissner


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The Shape of Mercy: A Novel by Susan Meissner

“We understand what we want to understand.”

Leaving a life of privilege to strike out on her own, Lauren Durough breaks with convention and her family’s expectations by choosing a state college over Stanford and earning her own income over accepting her ample monthly allowance. She takes a part-time job from 83-year-old librarian Abigail Boyles, who asks Lauren to transcribe the journal entries of her ancestor Mercy Hayworth, a victim of the Salem witch trials.

Almost immediately, Lauren finds herself drawn to this girl who lived and died four centuries ago. As the fervor around the witch accusations increases, Mercy becomes trapped in the worldview of the day, unable to fight the overwhelming influence of snap judgments and superstition, and Lauren realizes that the secrets of Mercy’s story extend beyond the pages of her diary, living on in the mysterious, embittered Abigail.

The strength of her affinity with Mercy forces Lauren to take a startling new look at her own life, including her relationships with Abigail, her college roommate, and a young man named Raul. But on the way to the truth, will Lauren find herself playing the helpless defendant or the misguided judge? Can she break free from her own perceptions and see who she really is?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307731555
Publisher: The Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/10/2012
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Susan Meissner has been feeding her love of writing all her life. Her first novel, Why the Sky is Blue, was released in 2004, after she resigned her post as editor for a local newspaper in a rural Minnesota town. Since that time she has had several books published and moved to San Diego, where she lives with her family.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I’ve heard the story countless times, how I grasped the delivering doctor’s scrubs as he guided me into the Durough family universe of opportunity and duty. My father likes to say I came out of my mother’s body insistent on being taken seriously, declaring to the doctor who held my slippery limbs that I was no helpless female unable to forge her way through the world of men.

I’ve seen the video. My father had the camcorder rolling when my mother pushed me into waiting hands. Dad’s aim was discreet, thank goodness, because he’ll sometimes show that video when he tells the story. He’s even downloaded it onto his iPod. I’ve seen my open, squalling mouth, heard my mother’s throaty cries and a nearby nurse’s words: “It’s a girl.” My infant body is a glistening, angry shade of pink, and I am indeed grappling for the doctor’s clothes as if prepared to wrestle him to the floor. My father loves that.

Whispered conversations over the years–which I wasn’t meant to hear–have suggested my father enjoys retelling this story because he needs to reassure himself it’s not the end of the world that God didn’t bless him with a son. Neither was I supposed to hear that my clutching at the doctor’s clothes could just as easily have been a cry of, “Help! I’m falling!” rather than, “Stand aside! I’ve arrived!”

I’ve long wondered if the whispering people are right. About both.

Imagine you are six, and you’re hiding under the dining room table, hidden by the damask cloth that covers it, and all you can see are the shiny, pointed toes of women in stilettos, clicking their way from room to room. Their skirts swish. Their porcelain coffee cups make delicate scraping sounds as they lift and lower them onto saucers. They’ve just heard Bryant Durough tell the story of how his daughter, Lauren, was born.

His only daughter. His only child.

Born grappling for power.

One of them titters. “So like a man to see it that way.”

“I heard Bryant and Julia have tried everything to have another child,” another says.


“Oh, that’s so sad. They’re such wonderful parents.”

“In vitro, too?”

“Yes. They tried in vitro three times. Three times it didn’t take.”

“Oh, dear.”

“Think they’ll adopt?”

“Goodness, no.”

“No, I suppose not.”

“I imagine it’s hard for Bryant to be unable to pass along his side of the Durough name.”

“There have always been sons born to Duroughs. He’s the first not to have one.”

“And to think his brother has four sons. Four!”

“Bryant puts up a good front, but I bet it drives him nuts.”

“Well, at least they have Lauren.”

“Mmm. But you know, for a man like Bryant Durough, it’s not the same.”

You hear this, and you haven’t a clue what in vitro means, and you don’t know who didn’t take what they should have taken and why that is so oh-dear sad.

You do know who Bryant and Julia are.

And you know what the words “have another child” mean.

And the words “at least they have Lauren.”

You crawl away unseen and ponder the idea of another child, another child, another child for hours.

You wonder if having another child means someone wants to buy a new one. You wonder what happens with the old one.

What do they do with the old one?

Throughout the day you consider this, but you don’t say anything. You just let it tumble around in your six-year-old head. You stare at the picture in your bedroom of Jesus watching over a boy and a girl as they walk a dark forest path, and you wonder if the boy and girl are brother and sister and if Jesus loves them both the same.

When your mother tucks you in later that night and she leans down to kiss you and the scent of sweet apples is all around her, you look into her face and see nothing there but loveliness. The worry begins to fall away into the darkness and you reach out your hand to touch her tummy, the place where babies grow. It is flat and smooth. She looks down at your hand and then back up. Her eyes are wide.

You pull your hand away.

She stays a moment longer, caressing you on the forehead where a damp curl rests, and whispers, “Sweet dreams.”

She moves away from the canopied bed with its matching French provincial armoire and dresser. A seashell night-light glows at her ankles as she stands at your half-open door and blows you one last kiss.

It will be another six months before you hear again the story of how you were born.

It will be years before you find out what in vitro means.

And you will never be sure why you grabbed the doctor’s clothes.

When I met Abigail Boyles, the woman who hired me to transcribe the diary of a girl who died too young, she said to me, “You’re an only child, aren’t you?”

I asked her how she knew.

She said, “I’m one too.”

As if that were answer enough.

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Shape of Mercy 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 60 reviews.
BlogfulofBooks More than 1 year ago
"We understand what we want to understand." ?The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner is classified as contemporary fiction, but I must report that it is much, much more. A mixture of history, romance, and mystery, The Shape of Mercy is a thrilling and inspiring tale of three women who realize the importance opinion and judgement play in every aspect of life. Lauren Durough is a young college student on her way to becoming CEO of her wealthy father's company, yet she longs for a life free of judgement and superficiality. Abigail Boyles is an eighty-three-year-old retired librarian with many secrets who employs Lauren to transcribe an ancient diary written by Mercy Hayworth, a young woman victimized by the infamous Salem witch trials. I was not sure about this story at all when I received it from WaterBrook Multnomah, and the title did not even register with me. It wasn't until I finished the book that I realized what The Shape of Mercy really means. I can't say much about the story besides what is above because it would be so easy to give it all away. All I can say is that this book is on my Best of 2011 list already, and its only February. Susan Meissner's writing style is spectacular; it is one of the best first-person tales I've read. Her descriptiveness is impeccable, and her characters are so well developed. I've never read any of her books before, but I can say that, after this one, I am a fan! She tastefully tackles history and romance in this book, something I can't say about all authors. At the end of the book Susan Meissner notes that Mercy Hayworth is a fictional character -- she was not actually part of the Salem witch trials -- but all other information in the book is accurate. Still, she did a wonderful job making me believe the diary, the girl, and the story were real. The only thing that I didn't approve of was the lazy mentioning of God. Besides one character taking the Lord's name in vain twice (which shocked me in a book published by a Christian company), God and prayer are mentioned loosely and vaguely. I rather wish God had been removed altogether; putting Him in last place doesn't sit well with me. This aside, the book is a great one. If you like mystery, historical fiction, romance, and great writing, you will love The Shape of Mercy. I received this book for free from Water?Brook Multnomah via Blogging for Books. All opinions of this book are my own.
spyderk More than 1 year ago
If a book makes me cry, I tend to think it's pretty good because it moved me in some way. And perhaps I identified with something in this book, which made it all the more comforting to read. This book was not predictable like a lot of Christian fiction was. I finished it in 1 day, and I wish it had been longer!
LadyLeslie More than 1 year ago
The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner is a definite read! Once I sat down to read this book, I had a hard time putting it down. Lauren Durough, is a single young woman from a prestigious family. She has grown up with all the things money can bring her while growing up but she doesn't really like living that way. She decides that she wants to earn some money on her own and lands a job transcribing an ancestral journal, for an 83 year old librarian, that belonged to Mercy Hayworth. Mercy Haworth's story is set in the 1600's during the Salem witch trials. Lauren finds herself deeply connected to Mercy's life and secrets. Mercy's life makes Lauren take a deeper look at her own life. Throughout the transcription of the journal, Lauren learns what mercy really means and is able to see and find her true self in it. She learns that about society's stigmas and stereotypes on those who are not as wealthy as she has been. She finds love in an unexpected young man and she learns truth about who she really is and not who others believe her to be. I will read this book again, that is how much I liked it and I will definitely be passing this one on. I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.
lanalucy More than 1 year ago
It took me a while to get to this book, because I found a box of more interesting books while I was waiting for this one to come in the mail. Lauren, a college co-ed with a trust fund (or two), decides to support herself through college, starting this semester. She finds a handwritten job notice about a transcription job, and after following up with the employer, Abigail, becomes intrigued. Abigail wants a journal transcribed, and is very particular about how the work is done. Lauren reads, transcribes and imagines, all while getting to know Abigail, one tiny droplet of information at a time. The journal in The Shape of Mercy belonged to Mercy Hayworth, a young woman accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials. The journal is written as a first-person account of Mercy's life, in a small town quite near Salem, as the accusations of witchcraft began and gained momentum. Though this account is fictional, it reads as if Mercy Hayworth actually lived, and left me wanting to delve into some history or read more first-person accounts. I enjoyed the book, and can recommend it to anyone who enjoys a little bit of history, very tame romance, or journals/diaries from historical figures. And though the backbone of the book is the journal and its entries, there was sufficient current storyline to keep me interested in the main characters who were living, as well.
catwoman522 More than 1 year ago
College sophomore Lauren Durough is trying to escape a life of privilege by attending a state school and living in the dorm like a "normal' person. She decides to take a part-time job in order to prove that she can make it on her own. She accepts a job transcribing a 300 year old diary into today's language. The diary is of a teenage girl who lived during the Salem witch trials. Mercy Hayworth, the diary's author, had been accused, tried and convicted of witchcraft and wrote about it all in her diary. The diary's owner, 83-year-old Abigail Boyles, has her own secret motives for wanting the diary transcribed. As the book progresses, Lauren is caught between the world of Salem in 1692 and today's world of social classes and preconceived notions. This was an AWESOME read! I thoroughly loved it. This is the first book I have read by this author and it makes me want to read more. She makes the characters so deep, so real and complex that you feel the turmoil within Lauren as she struggles to mix what she has been taught about money and social status and what she is learning in the real world. You get caught up with Mercy and her plight to stop the witchcraft madness back in Salem, all the while knowing her fate is sealed and it can't be changed. You feel frustration as well as sympathy for Abigail as she regrets choices she made in the past, choices that can't be changed and haven't been forgiven. And through it all, God's hand is seen weaving the circumstances and changing these three woman's lives. In the end, you are left with a book you just can't put down until you are done. I give it 5 out of 5 stars! Go buy it today!
Arlene70AL More than 1 year ago
This is the second Susan Meissner book I have read and it was another excellent read. Going back in time is a fun trip and you really get to care about Mercy as well as the people looking into her life. You'll enjoy the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book gives you insight into what the Salem trials were about.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have always been interested in the Salem Witch Trials afyer having learned that one of my ancestors, Samuel Wardwell, his wife, and his eldest daughter Mercy were accused of witchcraft. Of the three, Mercy plead guilty to witchcraft and lived, Samuel was hung in the last hanging Salem had before the governor put a stop to it, and Samuel's wife was released soon after the governors declaration, but only lived a few years after-- having contracted an illness in jail. Their family was tore apart-- the children being parceled out to various relatives and forced to work for their keep. It was all very sad. This book really brought the past to life for me-- how my ancestors would have lived, how the community reacted and perhaps how many people felt privately about the whole thing. It really touched my heart. Mercy was such a sweet girl and ahead of her time in many ways. She had her whole life ahead of her only to have it robbed from her because of a petty and selfish girl who was jealous of tje loveMercy and John Peter had for one another. These trials brought out both the worst and the best in people-- those accused could have taken the easy way out and admitted they were a witch. But most had the character, the strength, and the spiritual convictions to maintain their innocence and stand up for what they believed. While others used it to hurt those they found fault with and take advantage of the poor, the pious, and anyone unusual, and to settle old scores. It is a really dark period in our history. But I loved how the author wove it in with the present to show how reading about Mercy affected her life and the way she saw the world.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great story by a wonderful author.
cmairep More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this beautifully written book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TrishPerryNovelist More than 1 year ago
Meissner's beautifully written story about Mercy Hayworth, a victim of the Salem witch trials, feels so genuine, it will send you straight to Google to find out whether or not Mercy was a real person. But Mercy's isn't the only story here. We walk her path, chronicled in her diary, along with Lauren (Lars) Durough, the wealthy college student aching to stand on her own feet by working for the mysterious Abigail Boyles, Mercy's 83-year-old descendant. The intertwining lives of all three women will quickly capture the reader's curiosity, and questions about assumptions, choices, love, regret, and forgiveness will linger well after the story ends. Highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
LLE07 More than 1 year ago
Lauren Durough is privileged. She's grown up under a family name associated with wealth and prestige. Lauren goes against the familial mold when she decides to bail on Stanford, study at a state school, and not select business as her major. Lauren's love for English and desire to rebel against the stigma of the Durough name lands her with a job transcribing a journal for the elderly Abigail Boyles. The journal, passed down through generations of Abigails family, finds its way into Laurens heart and head as she transcribes it. By the time she is done, she finds herself not only connecting with Mercy Hayworth from hundreds of years prior, but wondering about the skeletons in Abigail's closet, and how she herself views the world. Finds Mercy helps Lauren find out more about herself. I really enjoyed this book. Being a history lover, I found the the cross between modern times and flashes into the life of Mercy and the diary really interesting. I also thought Meissner did a great job being historically accurate with the names and what happened to the women and men as they were tried and put into jail. While hesitant to read the book not knowing exactly how the story line would read, I was never once disappointed. As a reader that tends to skip ahead when things get exciting, I knew it was a good sign when 50 pages into the book I found myself looking ahead. Not only was the overall plot an excellent portion of the book, but I also loved the way Meissner tied the three main women, Lauren, Abigail, and Mercy together. The all seemed to either be in similar places in their life or had been. They all learned so much from each other and I enjoyed the tie between the three women. It was interesting to watch the growth that Lauren and Abigail went through as they learned from Mercy and from each other. I also enjoyed that Meissner included a little love story line. As a lover of the romance novels, it was an excellent touch. The book was really good and I recommend it to anyone looking for a book about self-discovery with added touches of history. I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. My opinions are my own and are not influenced in anyway.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
hmweasley More than 1 year ago
This book is amazing. It takes place in two different time periods. Lauren lives in the present day, but you also get to read Mercy's diary entries from the Salem Witch Trials. If you've read this blog long enough, you know I'm a huge history nerd, and the Salem Witch Trials happened during one of my absolute favorite time periods. Often I can't sympathize with rich characters that well because, well, I don't know what it's like to be rich, but I didn't have that problem with Lauren. She had so many aspects to her character that I could relate to. Throughout the book, Lauren's trying to figure out who she is, which is something I think all of us can understand. She also has a love for books (all three of the female characters do), and I love reading about other people who love books. I felt the same way about Abigail. She was a very relatable character in spite of the fact that she has a lot of money and grew up in a different time period. Mercy was probably the most fascinating character in the story even though she's been dead a long time when the book is actually taking place. Her diary entries are wonderful, and even though you know it's impossible, you keep hoping that she won't die. She was amazing to read about. All of the other characters are amazing too. I loved all of them. I think the characters were by far the best part of the book although I also loved reading about the Salem Witch Trials in Mercy's diary. Susan Meissner used a lot of real facts about the trials in the story, and it was fascinating to read about. The diary entries are also extremely emotional (the later ones at least). I read the end of the book at work, and I had to force myself not to cry in case someone walked in and saw me. I highly recommend this book to everyone. I think even people who don't care at all about history or the Salem Witch Trials would enjoy it. There's just enough history in the story for people like me to enjoy it, but not enough to turn people who hate historical fiction off.
Heidi_Dances More than 1 year ago
I loved The Shape of Mercy through to the very end; in fact I couldn't put it down at the last. As Lauren transcribes the diary of Mercy Hayworth into readable language the character of Mercy comes alive both for Lauren and for the reader. Toward the beginning of the book there is a hint of the paranormal that I assumed would be developed in the story. It wasn't, and I was slightly disappointed. If the reader knows going in that this angle won't be followed it will be a more comfortable read. Abigail, Lauren, Mercy and the supporting characters are well-crafted and multi-layered. Their thought processes, and characterizations of others show growth and deeper understanding as the story progresses. I admire an author that can show evolution in the characters, and author Susan Meissner earned my esteem. The Shape of Mercy reminded me of reading a portion of my great, great, great grandmother's diary and finding her come alive in her first person account of her life. The women, both my grandmother and Mercy are not just sepia-toned images in the context of history, but women whose lives promised hope and heartache, just like any other woman in any other slice in history.
MyLifeinReviews More than 1 year ago
The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner is about Lauren Durough a girl who grew up in a privileged family. However when she grew up-turned 18 and went away to college-decided she didn't want to survive on family money. Feeling like she should get a job she found a flyer that peeked her interest. Librarian Abigail Boyles is looking for someone to help transcribe the journal of Mercy Hayworth and young women alive during the Salem Witch Trials. Once Lauren starts to transcribe the journal she admittedly start to feel drawn/close to Mercy. I really enjoyed this book. It was not something that I would have normally gone for but I did really enjoy this books. I give it 4 out of 5. Happy Reading!
rainbowsoffaith More than 1 year ago
Lauren Durough is a young woman of privilege who yearns to break out of the wealthy bubble she was born into. In order to prove her worthiness to her dad she decides to attend UC Santa Barbara rather than the usual choice of Stanford where her four male cousins attend. Rather than accepting her dad's money for school Lauren decides to accept a job from old Abigail Boyles. This particular job posting stood out in its personalization of being on pretty stationary and its handwritten words. This wasn't just some job at a coffee shop, but a job to transcribe a three hundred year old diary. The diary of Mercy Hayworth. A victim of the Salem Witch Trials. Lauren's dad is surprised at her choice of a job, but no amount of being deterred is going to stop Lauren from her transcription task. Abigail is an eighty-three year old recluse who takes solace in her mansion. Her favorite room is her large library stuffed in every possible corner with books. The first time Lauren enters Abigail's library she feels claustrophobic. Abigail is excited to share Mercy's diary with Lauren. She makes Lauren promise to not do any outside research until after the diary transcription is complete. Lauren is swept up into Mercy's diary the moment that Abigail takes it out if its protective box and hands Lauren her own pair of white gloves to wear. Mercy's world is full of being a dutiful daughter, ignoring the Salem gossip and taking time to write stories to help ease the pain of loosing her mother and brother years ago to sickness. Lauren is taken with Mercy's story and can't wait to keep coming back to Abigail's to transcribe. When Lauren nears the end of transcribing Abigail disappears. Is there more to the diary than merely Mercy's words? This lovely novel deals with the challenge to be true to yourself when what your family tells you may be different. Both Abigail and Lauren are women of privilege who discover that just because you can buy anything doesn't mean you are happy or that your world is perfect. Both these women are tested to see that whether someone looks rich or poor on the outside it is not who they are on the inside. This book I almost finished in one day. If you have an interest in the Salem Witch Trials I would highly recommend this novel. It is a mixture of mystery, a love story and family drama. It was beautifully penned. It was worth reading every word. I received my free copy of The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner from Waterbrook/Multnomah Press for the strict purposes of posting a review. This is via their Blogging for Books Program and my review is solely mine.
S-Scales More than 1 year ago
Susan Meissner takes a college student and an eighty-year-old lady in the present, adds the diary of a victim of the Salem witch trials four centuries ago and then builds a connection between them. The themes of choices, stigma, and preconceived notions are developed as these three women "interact" around this special diary. The characters are real and complex. I connected with them; I even felt like I knew them. The story is strong and deep and stayed with me after I finished the book. I thought about I how I would have handled things and about what could have happened next. I wished this well crafted tale could have continued. I have found a new favorite author in Susan Meissner! Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through Blogging for Books, Waterbrook Multnomah Publisher's book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.
abarker More than 1 year ago
Wow! I could not put this book down. Susan Meissner captivates you from page one. Susan's fictional story of three generations of woman is beautiful woven. Lauren is from a wealthy family. She chooses to break away from the life she has been given. she loves her father but wants to break out of the Durough mold. She's a college student trying to make a life of her own. She gets a job transcribing a 300+ year old diary that belongs to a family member that had no children to pass it along to. Lauren immediately gets lost in the world of Mercy, a young woman living during the Salem Witch Trials. She finds herself being drawn into a tale that she knows will end tragically but she finds she cannot stop herself from reading. As she continues with her work, Lauren begins to see how a girl who lived centuries ago shares the same feelings that she herself feels today. This is a book tells a story of love lost and found, self-discovery, sacrifice, and the dangers of making assumptions. This book was absolutely amazing! Heart-wrenching, bittersweet, mysterious, and all together brilliant. Susan Meissner is an incredibly gifted storyteller. I received this book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah in exchange for my honest review.
EdenE More than 1 year ago
Lauren Durough was born into privilege. As the only child of her wealthy parents, Lauren feels the weight of bearing the Durough name and rebels by attending a state school and living in the dorms. As a further bid for individuality, Lauren decides to take a job to earn her own spending money. When she is hired by a wealthy matron to transcribe the diary of a young girl accused of witchcraft in Salem Massachusetts during the infamous witch trials, she is unprepared for just how much her perspective will be changed. Susan Meissner has a quality in her writing that gives it an edgy sincerity. Her word choice and style make her easy to read, and are a credit to the genre. I did, however, feel that style waned a bit towards the second half of the book. Some of the characters are well developed, though some other characters feel a bit shallow. Somehow I was left wanting a little something more from some of them. The point Meissner is trying to make with her story is quite clearly stated, though a little too much for my tastes, as I tend to like excavating a story's lesson rather than have it served to me on a platter. But over all, The Shape of Mercy is a decent read. I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.