Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards, 417 pages
2nd Canadian Book Challenge; book awards: Giller Winner, 2000
Have you ever done the exercise in Moral Dilemmas called Alligator River?
"Once upon a time there was a woman named Abigail who was in love with a man named Gregory. Gregory lived on the shore of a river. Abigail lived on the opposite shore of the river. The river that separated the two lovers was teeming with alligators. Abigail wanted to cross the river to be with Gregory. Unfortunately, the bridge had been washed out in a flood. So she went to Sinbad, who had a boat, and asked him to take her across. He said he would be glad to if she would sleep with him. She promptly refused and went to a friend named Ivan to explain her plight. Ivan didn't want to get involved at all in the situation. Abigail felt her only alternative was to accept Sinbad's terms. Sinbad fulfilled his promise to Abigail and delivered her into the arms of Gregory. When Abigail told Gregory about her bargain with Sinbad, Gregory, who told her he always thought she was a nice girl, cast her aside with disdain. Heartsick and dejected, Abigail turned to Jonah with her tale of woe. Jonah, feeling sorry for Abigail, found Gregory and beat him up.
Please rank the characters from best (1) to worst (5).
Gregory ______ Abigail ______ Sinbad _____ Ivan _____ Jonah _____"
This book felt like this dilemma. So many people made, or didn't make, decisions that could be debated. There were many unlikeable people here, each with their own level of culpability in the life of Sidney Henderson, and then by extension, his family. Lyle Henderson, Sidney's son, narrates his family's story. The author takes some liberties with this point of view, because how could this character know so much about things that happened when he wasn't there? It did get explained a bit at the end how it could have occurred, but it bothered a bit during the reading.
Set on the Miramichi River of New Brunswick, Richards does a wonderful job of describing the life and location. The snow, all the time the snow, and the moods he described really moved me across the strait and into the 1970s and '80s. There are such big ideas and themes in this book, I cannot even begin to explain, but it is certainly a novel worthy of praise and discussion. Lyle was inconsistent, or maybe just conflicted, in his role in the family. His father, as a teen, made a vow never to harm another living soul and then lived his life in passivity. There are many religious overtones as Sidney really lived his life as Jesus would suggest. In these themes, the book reminded me of A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. The Catholic Church gets a big going over here, concerning the power a priest could have over a small community. Also gaining much scorn are academics who claim to speak for the poor and the oppressed.
Sidney believes that people who commit acts of evil will eventually get their punishment, but his son is not willing to wait for that result and became much more involved in the retribution against those who harmed his family. And there are bullies abound here, who see Sidney as weak and try to destroy him, and make him the blame of all their troubles. Why are bullies so threatened by people who are different from them? It was frustrating to read and see how so many people were so connected and willing to blame any one else for their misfortune.
Mercy, Fury, Love and Redemption are the section headings and my edition, bought used, had been notated throughout by an English teacher. I enjoyed reading what had been circled and trying to interpret his notes. The ending was a little fantastic but tied up the novel nicely, a bit of a change from the way things spiralled out of control for many years. A good book to start the year.