Mercy Among the Children

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Mercy Among the Children

by David Adams Richards

Doubleday Canada | August 21, 2001 | Trade Paperback

4.1154 out of 5 rating. 26 Reviews
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Mercy Among the Children received effusive praise from the critics, was nominated for a Governor General's Award and won the Giller Prize. It was named one of 2000's best books, became a national bestseller in hardcover for months, and would be published in the US and UK. It is seen, however, as being at odds with literary fashion for concerning itself with good and evil and the human freedom to choose between them - an approach that puts Richards, as Maclean's magazine says, firmly in the tradition of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Author Wayne Johnston recounts hearing Richards read in 1983 and being struck by his unqualified love for every one of his characters, even though "it was not then fashionable to love your characters". Pottersfield Portfolio editor Tony Tremblay calls Richards the most misunderstood Canadian writer of the century, and a "great moralist", comparing him to Morley Callaghan, Kafka and Melville.

As a boy, Sydney Henderson thinks he has killed Connie Devlin when he pushes him from a roof for stealing his sandwich. He vows to God he will never again harm another if Connie survives. Connie walks away, laughing, and Sydney embarks upon a life of self-immolating goodness. In spite of having educated himself with such classics as Tolstoy and Marcus Aurelius, he is not taken seriously enough to enter university because of his background of dire poverty and abuse, which leads everyone to expect the worst of him. His saintly generosity of spirit is treated with suspicion and contempt, especially when he manages to win the love of beautiful Elly. Unwilling to harm another in thought or deed, or to defend himself against false accusations, he is exploited and tormented by others in this rural community, and finally implicated in the death of a 19-year-old boy.

Lyle Henderson knows his father is innocent, but is angry that the family has been ridiculed for years, and that his mother and sister suffer for it. He feels betrayed by his father's passivity in the face of one blow after another, and unable to accept his belief in long-term salvation. Unlike his father, he cannot believe that evil will be punished in the end. While his father turns the other cheek, Lyle decides the right way is in fighting, and embarks on a morally empty life of stealing, drinking and violence.

A compassionate, powerful story of humanity confronting inhumanity, it is a culmination of Richards' last seven books, beginning with Road to the Stilt House. It takes place in New Brunswick's Miramichi Valley, like all of his novels so far, which has led some urban critics to misjudge his work as regional - a criticism leveled at Thomas Hardy, Joseph Conrad and Emily Bronte in their own day. Like his literary heroes, Richards aims to evoke universal human struggles through his depiction of the events of a small, rural place, where one person's actions impact inevitably on others in a tragic web of interconnectedness. The setting is extremely important in Richards' work, "because the characters come from the soil"; but as British Columbia author Jack Hodgins once told Richards, "every character you talk about is a character I''ve met here in Campbell River".

Format: Trade Paperback

Published: August 21, 2001

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0385259956

ISBN - 13: 9780385259958

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– More About This Product –

Mercy Among the Children

by David Adams Richards

Format: Trade Paperback

Published: August 21, 2001

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0385259956

ISBN - 13: 9780385259958

Read from the Book

The small Catholic churches here are all the same, white clapboard drenched with snow or blistering under a northern sun, their interiors smelling of confessionals and pale statues of the Madonna. Our mother, Elly Henderson, took us to them all along our tract of road — thinking that solace would come. In November the lights shone after seven o''clock on the stained-glass windows. The windows show the crucifixion or one of the saints praying. The hills where those saints lived and dropped their blood look soft, distant and blue; the roads wind like purple ribbons toward the Mount of Olives. It is all so different from real nature with its roaring waters over valleys of harsh timber where I tore an inch and a half of skin from my calves. Or Miramichi bogs of cedar and tamarack and the pungent smell of wet moosehide as the wounded moose still bellows in dark wood. I often wanted to enter the world of the stained glass — to find myself walking along the purple road, with the Mount of Olives behind me. I suppose because I wanted to be good, and my mother wanted goodness for me. I wanted too to escape the obligation I had toward my own destiny, my family, my sister and brother who were more real to me than a herd of saints. My father''s name was Sydney Henderson. He was born in a shack off Highway 11, a highway only Maritimers could know — a strip of asphalt through stunted trees and wild dead fields against the edge of a cold sky. He did poorly in school but at
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From the Publisher

Mercy Among the Children received effusive praise from the critics, was nominated for a Governor General's Award and won the Giller Prize. It was named one of 2000's best books, became a national bestseller in hardcover for months, and would be published in the US and UK. It is seen, however, as being at odds with literary fashion for concerning itself with good and evil and the human freedom to choose between them - an approach that puts Richards, as Maclean's magazine says, firmly in the tradition of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Author Wayne Johnston recounts hearing Richards read in 1983 and being struck by his unqualified love for every one of his characters, even though "it was not then fashionable to love your characters". Pottersfield Portfolio editor Tony Tremblay calls Richards the most misunderstood Canadian writer of the century, and a "great moralist", comparing him to Morley Callaghan, Kafka and Melville.

As a boy, Sydney Henderson thinks he has killed Connie Devlin when he pushes him from a roof for stealing his sandwich. He vows to God he will never again harm another if Connie survives. Connie walks away, laughing, and Sydney embarks upon a life of self-immolating goodness. In spite of having educated himself with such classics as Tolstoy and Marcus Aurelius, he is not taken seriously enough to enter university because of his background of dire poverty and abuse, which leads everyone to expect the worst of him. His saintly generosity of spirit is treated with suspicion and contempt, especially when he manages to win the love of beautiful Elly. Unwilling to harm another in thought or deed, or to defend himself against false accusations, he is exploited and tormented by others in this rural community, and finally implicated in the death of a 19-year-old boy.

Lyle Henderson knows his father is innocent, but is angry that the family has been ridiculed for years, and that his mother and sister suffer for it. He feels betrayed by his father's passivity in the face of one blow after another, and unable to accept his belief in long-term salvation. Unlike his father, he cannot believe that evil will be punished in the end. While his father turns the other cheek, Lyle decides the right way is in fighting, and embarks on a morally empty life of stealing, drinking and violence.

A compassionate, powerful story of humanity confronting inhumanity, it is a culmination of Richards' last seven books, beginning with Road to the Stilt House. It takes place in New Brunswick's Miramichi Valley, like all of his novels so far, which has led some urban critics to misjudge his work as regional - a criticism leveled at Thomas Hardy, Joseph Conrad and Emily Bronte in their own day. Like his literary heroes, Richards aims to evoke universal human struggles through his depiction of the events of a small, rural place, where one person's actions impact inevitably on others in a tragic web of interconnectedness. The setting is extremely important in Richards' work, "because the characters come from the soil"; but as British Columbia author Jack Hodgins once told Richards, "every character you talk about is a character I''ve met here in Campbell River".

From the Jacket

Believing he may have accidentally killed a friend, Sydney Henderson makes a pact with God. If God will spare the boy's life, Sydney will never again harm another human being.

In the years that follow, the self-educated, brilliant and now almost pathologically gentle Sydney holds true to his promise. Yet others in the small rural community in New Brunswick view Sydney's pacifism as an opportunity to exploit and torment the defenseless Hendersons. Tragedy strikes when a small boy dies as a result of an act of sabotage and revenge gone horribly wrong. It is a death for which Sydney is blamed. Guilty only of being different, Sydney refuses to defend himself and his family. Raised on the books his father has long collected, Sydney's son Lyle shares a deep respect for the power of words. But when he is forced to watch his family ridiculed and attacked, Lyle turns his back on God and literature, and adopts an aggressive strategy for protecting his mother, sister and brother. In the end it is Lyle who must decide what legacy his family's tragedy will hold. Amid the squalor of their lives, Sydney and Lyle demonstrate how humanity faces inhumanity, how lies and disappointments cannot and will never destroy truth or human greatness.

Written with the characteristic control, intelligence and compassion for which Richards has been widely acclaimed, Mercy Among the Children is a story set in a particular time and place, yet its message is universal.

About the Author

David Adams Richards was born in 1950 in Newcastle, New Brunswick, the third of six children in a working-class family. Though he didn’t grow up as poor as Lyle, he knew something about feeling different in a rural community, having a “townie” father who owned a movie theatre and suffered from narcolepsy. He found his calling at the age of fourteen, after reading Oliver Twist , and embarked on a life of extraordinary purpose, which he says didn’t help the family finances: "Sometimes…I thought it would be better if I were a plumber, but I wouldn’t be very good." He studied literature at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, and while working on a second novel he attended an informal weekly writers workshop, known as the Ice House Gang for the converted storage room where they met. There he received encouragement from established writers including the late Alden Nowlan, whom he names as an important influence along with Faulkner, Pushkin, Dostoevsky and Emily Bronte. He published a book of poetry, Small Heroics , in the New Brunswick Chapbooks Series in 1972. When the first five chapters of The Coming of Winter won the Norma Epstein Prize for Creative Writing in 1973, he left university three credits short of his degree to write full-time; the book was published the following year, and translated into Russian. He and his wife Peggy, who had met at 17 and married at 21, spent several years travelling in Canada, Australia and Europe (
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Author Interviews

Can you tell us how you became a writer?

Read Oliver Twist when I was 14 - never wanted to do anything else after that.

What inspired you to write this particular book? Is there a story about the writing of this novel that begs to be told?

It's a book with one question. When is turning against others necessary. It is a question asked by two people, Sydney and Lyle. And in their struggle all society is examined from top to bottom.

What is that you're exploring in this book?

Many themes and many favourite characters. One of the major themes is how modern men and women have mistaken public opinion for truth, and have at times allowed this to diminish their better natures.

Are there any tips you would give a book club to better navigate their discussion of your book?

Realize that this is a study as much of love as hate, as much of joy as sorrow. Elly and Sydney are not the victims here - those who torment them and order their trial are.

Which authors have been most influential to your own writing?

Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Conrad, Bronte, Alden Nowlan, Alistair MacLeod, and many others.

If you weren't writing, what would you want to be doing for a living? What are some of your other passions in life?

I'd be dead from over-fishing and over-hunting and over-curling.

If you could have written one book in history, what book would that be?

I can't imagine writing War and Peace.

Editorial Reviews

"Richards is a painfully sharp observer, who possesses one of the most distinct and compelling voices in contemporary literature." — The Toronto Star "Richards has a wonderful ear for the cadence of the language, and his compassion for his poorest characters'' misery is infectious — the best of Richards'' work is dark in tone, both harshly realistic and lyrically sympathetic to the most disadvantaged members of society." — The Globe and Mail "At its best, Richards'' work has a touch of greatness, yielding up reminders, sharp as wood smoke on an autumn evening, of both the pity and the glory of being human." — Maclean''s "His voice is one of the most powerful and necessary to be found in Canadian fiction." — Ottawa Citizen "Wit and acuity mark out this Canadian writer of unaffected, unsentimental integrity." — The Observer (U.K.) " Mercy Among the Children is a major novel precisely because it disavows concern for the structure of things in any one place and time in favour of the structure of things for all places and times." — The Globe and Mail "David Adams Richards is perhaps the greatest Canadian writer alive ... Although Mercy Among the Children is unrelentingly tragic, as with most great tragedies the undertone is one of boundless hope." — Vancouver Sun "In its depth of feeling and fierce drive, Mercy Among the Children makes even the best of contemp
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Bookclub Guide

Can you tell us how you became a writer?

Read Oliver Twist when I was 14 - never wanted to do anything else after that.

What inspired you to write this particular book? Is there a story about the writing of this novel that begs to be told?

It's a book with one question. When is turning against others necessary. It is a question asked by two people, Sydney and Lyle. And in their struggle all society is examined from top to bottom.

What is that you're exploring in this book?

Many themes and many favourite characters. One of the major themes is how modern men and women have mistaken public opinion for truth, and have at times allowed this to diminish their better natures.

Are there any tips you would give a book club to better navigate their discussion of your book?

Realize that this is a study as much of love as hate, as much of joy as sorrow. Elly and Sydney are not the victims here - those who torment them and order their trial are.

Which authors have been most influential to your own writing?

Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Conrad, Bronte, Alden Nowlan, Alistair MacLeod, and many others.

If you weren't writing, what would you want to be doing for a living? What are some of your other passions in life?

I'd be dead from over-fishing and over-hunting and over-curling.

If you could have written one book in history, what book would that be?

I can't imagine writing War and Peace.
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