Under the Mercy Trees: A Novel

Under the Mercy Trees: A Novel

by Heather Newton


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“[An] eloquent, sorrowful novel....Readers of both Pat Conroy, on one hand, and Carson McCullers, on the other, will relish Newton’s flawed characters and piquant portrayal of small town life.” —Booklist (starred review)

Under the Mercy Trees will take your breath away.” —Robin Antalek, author of The Summer We Fell Apart

Heather Newton’s Under the Mercy Trees tells the poignant and unforgettable story of a man forced to face his troubled past when he returns to his hometown in the mountains of North Carolina following the disappearance of his brother.

Thirty years ago, Martin Owenby came to New York City with dreams of becoming a writer. Now his existence revolves around cheap Scotch and weekend flings with equally damaged men. When he learns that his older brother, Leon, has gone missing, he must return to the Owenby farm in Solace Fork, North Carolina, to assist in the search. But that means facing a past filled with regrets, the family that never understood him, the girl whose heart he broke, and the best friend who has faithfully kept the home fires burning. As the mystery surrounding Leon's disappearance deepens, so too does the weight of decades-long unresolved differences and unspoken feelings—forcing Martin to deal with the hardest lessons about home, duty, and love.

Under the Mercy Trees adds the name Heather Newton to a sterling list of acclaimed authors in the Southern literary tradition that already includes Reynolds Price, Kaye Gibbons, Jill McCorkle, Clyde Edgerton, and Tom Franklin.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062001344
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/18/2011
Pages: 344
Sales rank: 1,252,808
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Heather Newton's short stories have appeared in Crucible, Encore, Wellspring, and elsewhere She lives with her family in Asheville, North Carolina, where she is an attorney and mediator.

What People are Saying About This

Tommy Hays

Under the Mercy Trees offers eloquent evidence that nothing is or ever will be as dramatic as family.... [A] stunningly beautiful book…. Newton has rendered her characters’ world with clear-eyed compassion and in so doing delivered one sweet ache of a novel.”

Robin Antalek

Under The Mercy Trees will take your breath away.... A remarkable debut by a writer who captures with her words the beauty in the ugly and forgiveness in the unrepentant.”

Sandra Dallas

“A brilliantly crafted novel of a complex family bound by love and hate, hope and regret, a family that must come to terms with each other and in the process, forgive themselves. You’ll find a bit of your own family there and perhaps something of yourself.”

Tom Franklin

“A novel that seamlessly, beautifully, twines past with present to show how we can never escape our histories or the deeds—good and bad—that create those histories. The powerful, swelling conclusion of this book raised gooseflesh on my arms and had me near tears. ”

Jill McCorkle

Under the Mercy Trees is an amazing novel, driven by mystery, and weaving past and present stories into an intricate and mesmerizing design.... An extraordinary piece of work.”

Customer Reviews

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Under the Mercy Trees 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
buddysmom78 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
LOVED!!! This was a great read! The ending was surprising and all the mysteries are tied up at the end!
bettyjo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really can't explain why but the characters did not resonate with me. I usually like books set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina but the Owenby family in general was hard to like. They were not a happy bunch and Martin, the main character never reaches his potential as a writer even after having the local small town doctor pay his way through the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Leon, the brother who disappears never seems like a nice person and the sister-in-law who had a brief affair with him when her marriage to his brother turned sour was in a needy place. He seemed to be the only available man around for her to fool around with.
nnjmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After Leon Owenby disappears without a trace, his younger brother Martin comes home to North Carolina to be with the rest of his siblings. He left home for New York years ago to go to college and become a writer, and doesn¿t quite fit into his family¿s rural existence any longer. As the family tries to understand what happened to Leon, they must also deal with long-buried family secrets.Heather Newton is a wonderful writer, who was able to write from the perspective of four very different characters and give them each their own voice. She deftly depicts life in the 1980s in a small mountain town in North Carolina, giving the book a vividly drawn setting. She crafts each character completely with a living, breathing authenticity.After reading my glowing praise for Ms. Newton¿s writing ability, I¿m sure you¿re wondering why I only rated this book three stars.Out of the four characters whose points of view make up this story, I only found myself liking one of them. I wasn¿t emotionally connected to any of the characters except Ivy, the eccentric older sister who sees dead people and is written off as crazy by the rest of the family. I understand that the Owenby siblings were a product of the rotten environment they grew up in, and yet I couldn¿t find any empathy for the rest of them. And so I was left with this dilemma: how do you invest emotionally in a story whose central characters you don¿t like or relate to?I¿ve said this before: when reading gritty, realistic, literary fiction, I need hope. I don¿t need fairy tale, happily ever after endings, but I do need to see a light for the characters. Under the Mercy Trees gives you a family of people who have settled for the lot life has dealt them, who don¿t care or try to make things any better for themselves. When I closed the book, I was depressed, knowing that this multi-generational family ¿ including the new baby born into it ¿ would continue to perpetuate the dysfunction.But, like I said in that second paragraph: Heather Newton can write. For that reason, I will definitely pick up the next book she pens.
tarenn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
UNDER THE MERCY TREES by Heather Newton is an interesting contempory novel set in the 1850's and 1980's in Solace Fork,North Carolina a mountain town.This is this author's debut novel.It is well written with depth and details inspired partly by her husband's family and partly by her own experience. This is the story of North Carolina mountain life,a gay man,a homecoming,family,deception,secrets,bitterness,healing,and facing the past.To the Owenby family bitterness among themselves is nothing ususual,a everyday occurance along with broken dreams.When Leon,the uncle goes missing,the family comes together,and fight among themselves over his property.When he is finally found he is died. This is a complex story told from the different characters point of views.It is full of family drama,secrets, and complex emotions.If you enjoy drama,family secrets,homecomings,past loves,lost love,and broken dreams this is the story for you. This book was received for the purpose of review from Net Galley and the publisher and details can be found at Harper Collins Publishers and My Book Addiction Reviews.
Beecharmer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book a great deal. The characters were believable and I enjoyed the way the book was told by different people. I think the book was so realistic because some of the characters like Bobby and Eugenia were not likeable. The author has a good understanding of people and how they believe what they want to be true like Liza did with Martin. It did bother me somewhat that "someone" got away with murder and I was left wondering what would become of Martin. The book seemed a little unfinished in that respect. I hope to see more novels from Heather Newton.
BONS on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In an effort to not sound harsh I can not say why this book did nothing for me. Maybe I have tired of the stories of the uneducated, rural south that include trailers and years of dysfunctional family stories. Each chapter starts with a different character and that is a style I gravitate to. There is one sister, Ivy, who can see dead people. That too, is more aligned to what I would find appealing. To say Ivy was the only interesting character for me is not a lie but Ivy alone could not make this story anything more than two stars.
ellasmeme on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had a hard time getting involved with the characters in this book. I think there were just too many for my reading taste. I kept having to look back and figure out who belonged to whom. I did like the way the author brought the story together in the end in a way I really didn't see coming until the final chapters. To be fair, I did start reading it over the holidays which may have impeded my getting involved. I'll try Heather Newton again. Thanks for the opportuniity to review!
bremmd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had a hard time starting this one. I think it had to do with reading it on the Nook. I'm still not the best e-reader reader out there. And I found myself having to page back and forth rereading to get into this. But make no mistake get into it I did. Once I made it past the first couple of chapters I couldn't put it down. Then a received a traditional print copy for Book Club Girl and I was in love.The story is told from the perspective of four characters. There's Martin, who has come home in the wake of the disappearance of his brother. Martin is not always the most likable character. But I always felt he was sympathetic. His story was a reminder at how hard it is to go home again but in the end learns to make peace with his past and starts to have hope for his future. Then there's Liza-Martin's High School girlfriend-who's heart was broken by Martin. Liza never fully recovered from riff with Martin but now that he is home again they are able to put their past to rest. Bertie is Martin's sister-in-law. Married to Martin and Leon's brother James, Bertie has carried a terrible secret with the power the tear the family apart. Bertie has become a frightened and timid woman and now, Leon's disappearance threatens to bring the past smack dab into the present. Finally, we hear from Ivy, Martin, James, and Leon's sister. Ivy has always been different. She can see ghosts of family members who have passed and babies yet to be born. Her own sad history gives her insights others have missed. She also holds the key to what really happened to Leon.This is a beautifully written story and I'm so glad I'll get a chance to discuss it with the author. On March 1st Book Club Girl is hosting Heather Newton on Blog Talk Radio. I just can't wait. One of the things that I found most fascinating how she chose to write this book; Martin, Liza, and Bertie's portions of the story are all told in the third person where as Ivy's is told in the first person. I don't remember reading a book where this style was used. I have my own idea on why she may have done this but I can't wait to get to talk to her myself. If you've read it or are even thinking of it head over the Book Club Girl's blog on the first and have a listen. I'm sure in will be great.
lorimarie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Loved this book! So glad I had a chance to read it. I think Heather Newton is an amazing author and can't believe this is a first novel. This is the kind of book that even from the start you begin thinking..."who can I pass this on to, how many people can I share this with, this is amazing I must will other people to read this and enjoy it with me" I'm reminded of reading 'The Secret Life of Bee's' for the first time. In this novel I found passages that I had to reread and savor for their beautiful and evocative language. I'm not much of a one for mysteries, but this is the kind of mystery I do love. More of a family story that really delves into the lives, histories, hearts and minds of each character to unravel what it is that has made this particular group of people a family. I feel lucky to have been given an opportunity to read this amazing book.
bnbookgirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really looked forward to reading this book, but I was somewhat disappointed. It was far to long, there was too much information in some parts of the novel and it started to drag. Other than Hodge and Liza, there was really not a character that I can honestly say I liked or really cared to know about. Perhaps more about Leon and what was behind his story would have helped somewhat. I like novels that have chapters told by different characters, but there were some characters that I could have easily skipped over. I think perhaps, there were too many characters to really grab onto to any one and get interested. Interesting family dynamics between some of the siblings, the petty issues could have been eliminated and the concentration could have gone toward the bigger issues. I will find it hard to recommend this book to customers, and this is disappointing. Always looking for the next great read to tell them about and this will not be it.
delphimo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book reminded me of William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. The main emphasis of the novel rests in the characters. I did not like the way the author jumped around from first person to third person in the narrative. Newton writes a Southern novel seeped in quirky and vindictive characters within the setting of decay as in the home place and the school. The story opens with the disappearance of Leon, one of five children born to a poor sharecropper/farmer in the 1920-1930's. At the end of novel, the reader is still unsure what has happened to Leon. One of the main characters, Martin, is homosexual. This is not developed nor explained well. Many of the characters lack dimension, the reader is unsure of the author's direction in the story. Maybe, the author needed to limit the characters and concentrate on fewer members of the Owenby family.
revzonian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Thank you, HarperCollins Publishers, for the advanced copy. I LOVED it! I plan to read more of Newton's novels. I could not put it down, and I wanted it to go on and on. I liked how the pieces of Martin's past were weaved into the present. I loved the writing - I felt the love between Martin and Liza. Mysteries is also my favorite genre of books, so this was a bonus. What happened to Leon? He was not well-liked, but did he deserve his fate? Was he really that horrible a man?
JGoto on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Heather Newton¿s debut novel, Under the Mercy Trees, is about a sad, dysfunctional family. The story revolves around the disappearance of sixty-five year old Leon, the eldest brother in the Owenby Family. It is told from the points of view of four people: Martin, the youngest brother, a troubled alcoholic who has kept his homosexuality hidden from the rest of the family, Liza, Martin¿s old friend and high school sweetheart, Bertie, Leon¿s sister-in-law with secrets and regrets of her own, and Ivy, Leon¿s mentally ill sister. Only Ivy¿s chapters are written in first person, no doubt in order to allow the reader to see the ghosts and spirits Ivy sees and hears on a daily basis.The setting of the novel is rural North Carolina, which Newton captures beautifully. We see the town of Solace Fork in the fifties, when Martin was a child, as well as in the present. The rigid conservatism in the town plays a large part in determining the choices and despair of the characters. Through narration of the present and memories of the past, Newton creates very believable characters. Although each is flawed, the reader is able to empathize with them all, even the mean-spirited and abusive Leon. The novel was engrossing and one I recommend.
ReviewsbyMolly on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am not sure how to really go into this review. I both liked it and disliked it. I disliked it because it was such a long story that was drug out too much, at times. I liked it, however, because this first time author really shows talent and created a complex, dramatic story that is life like and filled with characters who have flaws. Not fake-y stuff. Simple, normal, and even dysfunctional flaws. That's what brings out the complexity of the novel. I am still, too, a little unsure of Martin's character. Ms. Newton did a good job with all the characters in the novel, yes, but Martin's character...well, simply put, he was a bit too unusual for me. He lived in New York with Dennis, his lover, but had to come home to North Carolina to help with the mysterious disappearance of his brother, Leon. He kept his gayness in the closet when he was in North Carolina and focused on being there with his family and his long time friend and once, a girlfriend, Liza. In simple terms: he had to face his past. Told in different family member's perspective this novel is filled with mystery, grief, love, hope and longing-a little something for all types of readers. The plot is unique and could have been told by a seasoned author, the way Ms. Newton used her descriptive detail and her talented words. It is, as I said, a very dramatic styled story and it comes to life before the readerHowever, all this being said, it is not one that I,myself, would read again and again, due to my personal tastes. As I said in the beginning, I both liked it for it's complexity and disliked it for it's slowness and length. But, that will not stop me from recommending it with 3 stars for those who like the longer, slow paced drams styled stories. I will also read more books from Ms. Newton in the future, in hopes that I will find something by her that is absolutely mind blowing!
burnit99 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An excellent debut novel that follows a small-town Southern rural family as they deal with the mysterious disappearance of Leon Owenby, 65, who lived alone in the family house. We come to know the hidden pulse of the relationships between the family members, and the damage that Leon wreaked upon each of them at different times in the past (he was always a pretty mean cuss). By the end of the book, however, when we learn what became of Leon, we also find that there is grace and power in redemption, and all the family members come to grips with their own sad ghosts. The author writes with a particularly sure voice; the story was compelling and nicely slow-paced. My only complaint is about the physical structure of the book itself; it's an advance reader copy from Librarything. I've had many of these Early Reader books now, and this is the first one with such a non-existent binding, just loose pages held fragilely together with a pair of plastic punched strips. It was a struggle to hold the book together, and I hope this is the last of this type of binding I see from the Early Readers program.
blueshelled on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When I received Under the Mercy Trees by Heather Newton, I wasn¿t sure what to expect. What I received, however, was a compelling novel full of dynamic characters that pulled me right into the middle of a family drama where I happily stayed for a couple of weeks. Generally, when I am forced to focus on multiple characters in books, they are poorly written and my focus is divided to the point where I cannot enjoy the read, but it was not the case in this book and I was able to truly understand the characters.Leon Owenby, a man late in life, has disappeared. His family comes together to determine what has happened to him, as Leon is a responsible man who isn¿t the type to wander away from his life. As his family comes together, the past also comes to greet them and the story of the Owenby family unravels. The focus of the story is Martin, a brother who, even in his 50s, cannot admit his sexuality to his family. His life is one of regret and the paths untaken. The book is written through the minds of several of the family members, as well as friends of the family, and the road to what happened to Leon Owenby comes to a head at the end of the novel when we find that family is what you make of it and that things are not always what they seem.Personally, I was enthralled with this book from the first page. I usually read in the evenings and couldn¿t wait to get to this book every night. The characters were rich with insight and development and new family secrets came to light with every breath. It was, in a word, delightful.
DeanieG on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Martin comes home after being gone many years because his brother Leon has gone missing. Martin is reluctant to return having escaped his dysfunctional family years before. The story jumps from past to present yet never gets confusing. You care what happens to the characters and you dislike some of them. Steve and Trina could have been a litle more developed as could have some of the others. I would have liked to know more about Ivy and her ability to see ghosts. Overall this was a good book and I look forward to Heather Newton's next one...
Delphimo More than 1 year ago
The book reminded me of The Sound and the Fury with all the different voices. The characters did not tell their own story, but an uninterested narrator explained each person. The story begins with the disappearance of the oldest of 5 siblings of a rural, mountainous town. The family and friends gather to search for the missing Leon. In the course of the narrator's ramblings, the reader learns that Martin, the youngest, is a homosexual, and that Liza, a family friend, ignores this for decades. Bertie, the wife of James, had a brief 3 day fling and no one in the town knows with whom. Sister Ivy has led a terrible life with being raped at 13 years old by a friend of Leon. And Eugenia is the "holy" woman that attends church, but has a vicious tongue. Heather Newton presents characters with all their flaws and not glossed over life Hollywood stars. As each character realizes their short comings, the story suddenly ends.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ajmayhew More than 1 year ago
I read this book in three days (would have read it straight through if I'd had the uninterrupted time). There are five adult siblings in the Owenby family of Solace Fork, NC (rural, mountain community where "you can't swing a dead cat without hitting an Owenby"), one of whom goes missing, and one of whom--long-gone prodigal son--returns home. The story unfolds in four masterfully controlled points of view, and by the end of the book, it was clear to me why the author chose the voices she did, and why some characters were not narrators. This book is in one sense a mystery, although finding out "who-dunnit" is not what carries the reader almost compulsively through to the end...it is those individual stories. I simply had to know what was going to happen to Martin--on the one hand, unsympathetic (broke, out of work, unmotivated except to buy Scotch)--but also a man of great feeling. He's wounded but has a strange compassion for his relatives. He hasn't been able to come out to anyone in Solace Fork as gay, and has chosen instead to stay away from them. Liza--the main narrator--for many years has pined for Martin, not realizing on a conscious level that he is gay. She is deeply shaken by her father's death, and becomes disconnected with her husband, a good man; as a reader, I wanted her to know what a rich and fulfilled life she has, with two healthy daughters and a loving hunk of a husband. Then there's "crazy" Ivy, who may by book's end, seem the sanest of them all. She became so dear to me, and I found it fitting that she was quite important to the story's conclusion...also makes me want to be more sympathetic next time I hear of someone being labeled psychotic or schizophrenic. There are so many more stories...Bertie, whose almost accidental infidelity becomes understandable, so much so that I hoped for forgiveness from her husband. Eugenia...well, don't get me started...I never did come to like her, but the author skillfully helped me to see why Eugenia was the way she was. Ditto for Leon...couldn't believe I ultimately empathized with him. There are also characters readers love to hate--Bobby & Cherise (ugh), who fulfill their reason for being, but are never nice. The way the story unfolds is another strength of this novel, and a sign of a sure-handed writer. We'll be in the middle of a present-day narration when a character's thought will lead to a masterfully revealed back story. Neither does Newton fall into the trap that catches less adept writers...not every character's story comes to a certain conclusion. When you've read this book, you'll see that it would have come close to boring if all the stories had been brought to a neat end. And boring is a word that cannot be applied to anything about this amazing piece of work. I look forward to more from Heather Newton.
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MStefanides More than 1 year ago
This debut novel by North Carolina attorney Heather Newton is a deeply moving account of the Owenby family's harsh life in a rural southern county. The story spans decades of multiple generations of Owenbys pushing through their lives, with seemingly little satisfaction or enjoyment. The plot initially seems to be the mystery of the disappearance of Leon, one of the five Owenby siblings who are the centerpiece of the story. But very quickly, we learn that the real stories are the characters-Leon and his siblings and two generations before and after them; long-time family friends; teachers of both academics and life. Each chapter is told from the perspective of one of the characters, all but one sister's told in third person. Ivy, who most people believe is seriously mentally ill but who really sees and interacts with ghosts, tells her own story. Back and forth, the stories of each character unfold throughout the years, always coming back to the present and the search for Leon, or at least his body. Finding Leon and learning what happened to him cannot be told outside the context of the complicated family dynamics that have played out through the many generations of this family. What start out as back stories for each character quickly become pieces of the puzzle of Leon's disappearance, and what it represents to the family. The Owenbys and their friends are simple country people, what some folks would disparagingly refer to as "backward". Martin, the youngest of the five siblings, is able to escape and attend college, but the great personal cost makes him wonder at times if it was worth it. A few of the family friends have also "made it", working their way into positions of respect within the community. There are no stereotypes here. Newton lays bare each character's flaws, as harsh as some are, and good qualities. As is the case with real people, there is almost always something that makes each character sympathetic in some way. There are precious few who do not endear themselves to me in some way, however small. Under the Mercy Trees poignantly illustrates the fact that even the most simple people, people who most of society either ignore or wish didn't even exist, are complex and filled with emotion. Every human being has a story to tell-intricate, sometimes tragic, and sometimes triumphant stories. There are no happily ever after endings here, but most of the characters come to some type of resolution and acceptance of their lives, although much of that acceptance carries a heavy shroud of regrets. Like Ivy's ghosts, who surround her every waking and often sleeping minute, these characters will swirl around me for some time. As fictional as they are, they are too real to be shaken out of my mind simply because I have closed the book.
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