Book # 31 in my quest to read CBC’s 100 Novels that Make You Proud to be Canadian was Mercy Among the Children. While it is definitely not a feel good novel, it slowly draws the reader in and keeps them turning pages to find out what is next for the stigmatized, poor Henderson family. The New Brunswick author has been honoured to be a member of the Order of Canada and the Order of New Brunswick.
Using first person narration, David Adams Richards tells a dramatic story through characters that are trapped within their destiny of poverty. Lyle tells the story of his family. There are 3 generations that are destined to remain the underdogs of their community starting with the grandfather who was falsely accused of arson, followed by the father, Sydney who could not seem to get a break despite his high IQ and kind, quiet goodness and the children: Lyle, Autumn and Percy who live in poverty and are ostracized at school and within their community.
Lyle abhors his father’s inability to fight back, to quietly take abuse and to accept the lies and accusations that are made against him. Sydney insists that “if they destroy us they destroy themselves as well – not one breath of air comes against us that does not harm them as well” much to the frustration of the teenage boy. He cannot appreciate the goodness and kindness in his father who had made a deal with God that he would improve his ways after pushing another man off the roof.
Lyle’s mom, Elly is accused of stealing from her employer and Sydney is implicated in the sabotage of a bridge being built which resulted in the death of a young man. Both are ineffective at pleading their innocence and assumed guilty by the community causing more humiliation, mistreatment and abuse to be piled on this family. While his sister tries to improve her own life and his little brother remains sweet and positive, Lyle resorts to violence and drinking.
The story is full of twists and turns and the reader keeps on reading hoping for a positive resolution before it is too late. It is well-written and hard to put down despite as the reader hopes for goodness to shine through and lead to a positive ending. It shows the hope and resilience that impacts the characters who have been dealt a difficult life.