From acclaimed Canadian novelist Billie Livingston comes this powerful U.S. debut that unfolds over a riveting dual narrative—an unforgettable story of ordinary lives rocked by hardship and scandal that follows in the tradition of Jennifer Haigh, A. Manette Ansay, and Jennifer Egan.
Ben wakes up in a hospital with a hole in his head he can't explain. What he can remember he’d rather forget. Like how he’d spend nights as a limo driver for the wealthy and debauched….how he and his wife, Maggie, drifted apart in the wake of an unspeakable tragedy…how his little brother, Cola, got in over his head with loan sharks circling.
Maggie is alone. Again. With bills to pay and Ben in a psych ward, she must return to work. But who would hire her in the state she’s in? And just as Maggie turns to her brother, Francis, the Internet explodes with video of his latest escapade. The headline? Drunk Priest Propositions Cops.
Francis is an unlikely priest with a drinking problem and little interest in celibacy. A third DUI, a looming court date.…When Maggie takes him in, he knows he may be down to his last chance. And his best shot at healing might lie in helping Maggie and Ben reconnect—against all odds.
Simmering with dark humor and piercing insights, The Crooked Heart of Mercy is a startling reminder that redemption can be found in the most unlikely of places.
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About the Author
Billie Livingston is the award-winning author of three novels, a collection of short stories, and a poetry collection. Her most recent novel, One Good Hustle, a Globe and Mail Best Book selection, was nominated for the Giller Prize and for the Canadian Library Association’s Young Adult Book Award. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Crooked Heart of Mercy by Billie Livingston is a very highly recommended novel about broken, disenfranchised people trying to recover. I'm not saying this gem is an easy book to read. It's not. The characters are heartbroken, suffering, grieving, depressed, and fragile working class people who must find a way back from an unthinkable accident. The Crooked Heart of Mercy is a great title for an unforgettable book. Ben and Maggie were happily married, toiling away at their jobs to make ends meet and take care of their two year old son, Frankie. Maggie cleaned houses and ran errands for elderly women. Ben drove a limousine at night for wealthy tourists. When the unimaginable happens and Frankie dies by accident, they are left to cope with their brokenness and grief. Understandably, this puts a strain on their marriage and the two separate while trying to find a way to mourn Frankie through their grief and depression. To add to their individual stress, they both have siblings who need help from them and Ben has a father in failing health who needs assistance. At the beginning of The Crooked Heart of Mercy Ben wakes up in a psychiatric hospital in a dissociative state after what appears to have been a suicide attempt. He can't even say that he is Ben. Maggie knows she needs to try and get some work again, but it is hard to not break into tears over the littlest things that remind her of Frankie. If these two can recover and salvage their marriage, they will have plenty of scars to add to their already existing scars. It could be easy to harshly judge these broken people, sitting from a safe, secure, stable situation. From my perspective, and perhaps that is based on age and life experiences, that critical judgement would be unwise. Mercy is required. A measure of sympathy needs to be extended as these people strive to come to terms with grief, mourning, and how hard it is to forgive. Life can be fragile, accidents happen, people make mistakes, and sometimes their mistakes appear foolish. But the death of a child is a grief from which it is said you never really recover. Livingston does an excellent job telling this poignant story in the alternating voices of Ben and Maggie, exploring both their present and past. The characters of Ben and Maggie are both well developed. Ben's voice, in the beginning, can be challenging to follow because he is in the dissociative state and won't admit he is Ben or come to terms with everything that has happened. His early chapters focus on his sessions with his psychiatrist. Maggie's voice, while often heart breaking, is also funny, resilient, and determined. Only the most merciless could make it through Maggie's description of feeling Frankie in her lap without shedding a tear and feeling great sympathy and compassion for her. Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from HarperCollins for review purposes.
Wow! There is a lot happening in this book. To read the synopsis you would think it is all about Ben and Maggie. While these are the two main characters there are so many other characters and things going on within its pages. The story of Francis, Maggie’s brother and an alcoholic priest, was interesting. There is so much a priest gives up to become a servant of God yet Francis doesn’t quite get that, at all. Then add in Ben and Maggie’s son. He is really the entire story having a part in everybody’s life and being the cause of most of the problems. Cola (love the name) was the heart tugger. He had so many opportunities yet always was looking for the easy way. Ben Sr, Ben Jr’s father, also tugged at my heart. I cannot imagine my father living a life like Ben Sr. did and not being able to get him the help needed. Of course, Ben and Maggie… The main characters. Maggie’s story was that of a mother and wife dealing with lose and separation from love ones. She had to deal with so much and did the absolute best she could. When Lucy entered her life I wondered if it would help, but could see where that friendship was heading and how it would probably work out. Ben’s story was confusing. There were times I was not sure what he was talking about. I realized as the story went on where he was and what he was fighting and that made the rest of his story make a lot more sense to me. This is not an easy book. The alternating chapters are easy to follow but the stories told in these chapters are not always easy to read. There are tough subjects dealt with. This is my first Billie Livingston book and hopefully not my last.
I was so caught up in this book that I had my head buried in it all day. It tackles grief and loss and yet is so hopeful, funny and full of life. Really loved it.
3.5 The Crooked Heart of Mercy is Billie Livingston's latest novel. Ben and Maggie are an estranged couple. The unthinkable happened - their small son Frankie died in a tragic accident. But that accident was preventable - and both parents are more than aware of that. How do you carry on living after such a death? And this is what Livingston explores in The Crooked Heart of Mercy - loss, love, redemption and salvation. The Crooked Heart of Mercy is told in alternating chapters from both Maggie and Ben. Relationships of all sorts are explored in the novel - spousal, parental, fraternal, and many more. Ben and Maggie both have brothers and they too are struggling to find their way in life. Well, not just them - every character in the book is having a hard time. Most of them are marginalized - wounded or broken in one way or another - substance abuse, loneliness, isolation, aging, health and more. I found myself feeling incredibly sad as I read. And yes, the book heads towards that redemption and salvation ending, but even when I reached the last page, I couldn't shake the sadness. The sadness that comes with the repetition of the phrase...."We'll survive. That's what we do." And yet, that's what we all do, isn't it?
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings There are two people narrating this story and one I liked and one I didn't enjoy that much. Maggie the wife of this couple narrated the half that I liked. I understood what story she was telling me and I grew to care about her part of the story. On the other hand, Ben was the husband of this couple and I honestly couldn't even get his story and what he was trying to say until the bitter end and by that point I had lost any sympathy or empathy and really just didn't care about what story he was trying to tell. I think the biggest part of the reason why this book didn't resonate with me was Ben. Yes, he was obviously not a trustworthy narrator because the reader knows that something is wrong with him mentally, but it was more than that I couldn't even understand what he was trying to say.