At the age of twelve, Sydney Henderson pushes his friend Connie Devlin from the church roof. Looking down on Connie’s motionless body, Sydney believes he is dead. Let Connie live and I will never harm another soul, Sydney vows to God. At that moment, Connie stands up, wipes his bloody nose, and with a laugh, walks away. 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 regard Sydney’s pacifism as an opportunity to exploit and torment the vulnerable Hendersons. Raised on the books his father has long collected, Sydney’s eldest son Lyle shares a deep respect for the power of words. But forced to witness the persecution of those he loves, Lyle turns his back on God and literature and adopts a more aggressive strategy for the protection of his family. An exploration of how humanity faces inhumanity, how lies and disappointments cannot and will never destroy truth and human greatness, Mercy Among The Children is a novel set in a particular place and time, yet universal in its message.
Mercy Among The Children, is a very personal look into the lives of a family struggling to live. Their life is a hard one, and their obstacles seem almost unbearable. Set in a small, rural town in the Canadian province of New Brunswick, the Henderson’s have been dealt a hand that most would fold immediately. In a town filled with people who all possess defects and an imperfect way of living, the Henderson’s have become the ones who are targeted for persecution, deserved or not. As though by pointing out their apparent deficiencies the other townsfolk can feel better about their own issues.
This story is told from the point of view of Lyle, the eldest son of Sydney Henderson. Through his words, we learn much of the towns history and how his family came to be viewed so harshly. Lyle describes how his own life has been affected by both his father and his grand-father’s actions. However, the event that overshadows much of Lyle’s life happened before he was even born. His father Sydney, at the age of twelve made a promise to God that he would live a life of gentle, passivity. It is because of this, that Lyle comes to believe the family’s problems have evolved. At first, he agrees with his father and shares his faith, but as he matures and experiences firsthand the cruelty of mankind, Lyle begins to suspect that fighting back is the only way to survive. But does this make you just as bad as your attackers, or does it even matter, when all is said and done?
It would be all too easy to label this as a classic tale of good versus evil, but the depth of this story cannot allow that. There is no good or bad guy present here, all the characters, and all their actions, contain so many different shades of gray, that while reading you will find yourself at a loss as to just who is in the right. I think that this is exactly what makes Mercy Among The Children, such a powerful novel. The circumstances make you think, force you to consider how you would feel, and then change it up just enough to provoke you to view it from another perspective altogether.
Mercy Among The Children was not a book I found particularly easy to read. It shows an ugly side of people and life, but this is one of it’s strong points. The struggles of life are not pretty, and this book shows that in brutal honesty. I liked that the characters all had certain disagreeable characteristics, because it relates well to the real world. We all know that behind most seemingly perfect people, there is bound to be at least one not so nice thing about them. For me, a story is made by the characters it contains, and this novel contains a large cast of original and believable personalities, that pull this story together into something amazing. Character study, family saga and community overview are collectively joined by David Adams Richards smooth writing and provide an extremely stimulating read.
About The Author
David Adams Richards
Born in Newcastle, New Brunswick, David Adams Richards says he found his calling as a writer after reading Oliver Twist at the age of 14. He has since published 12 novels and two non-fiction books. Considered by many to be Richards’ most accomplished novel, Mercy Among the Children was co-winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2000. It also won that year’s Canadian Booksellers Association award for author of the year and fiction book of the year. The Miramichi region is at the heart of Richards’ fiction, and his depictions of the place and its people have garnered him numerous awards and prizes. Notably, he is one of few writers in the history of the Governor General's Award to win for both fiction (Nights Below Station Street) and non-fiction (Lines on the Water). He was awarded the prestigious Canada-Australia Prize in 1992.
Richards has adapted a number of his novels for TV and film, including Nights Below Station Street. Small Gifts brought him his first Gemini, for original screenplay, and his second was awarded for his adaptation of For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down. He co-wrote the screenplay for the feature film adaptation of The Bay of Love and Sorrows. Richards’ most recent book, The Lost Highway, was longlisted for the 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize. His previous novel, The Friends of Meagre Fortune, was a Scotiabank Giller nominee in 2006 and won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book (Canada and Caribbean). He has also written a non-fiction book on the place of hockey in the Canadian soul, Hockey Dreams. Richards now lives in Toronto, but still has a licence to fish the Miramichi River.
On the Canada Reads website there are so many interesting things to learn about David Adams Richards. Being a music lover I was particularly interested in a feature where Richards was asked to compile a playlist that he felt went best with his book, Mercy Among The Children.Here are seven of David Adams Richards Top Ten Playlist suggestions.
Also don’t forget to check out the CBC Archives for some great audio and video clips from the author, including interviews and a wonderful clip of Richards reading an excerpt from Mercy Among The Children.
About The Panelist
Eclectic singer-songwriter Sarah Slean is a creative force to be reckoned with. She has released six recordings (most recently The Baroness, in March 2008), all of which she co-produced, and has garnered two Juno nominations. She has toured extensively across North America and Europe, and has shared the stage with artists such as Blue Rodeo, Alanis Morissette and Bryan Ferry. She has collaborated with several of Canada’s most renowned orchestras, including the National Arts Orchestra and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Sarah is also an actor, with a Gemini nomination to her credit for her lead role in the musical film noir, Black Widow. In addition, she is an accomplished visual artist who has exhibited in both solo and group shows. And she’s a poet who has published two collections (Ravens and The Baroness). Sarah studied classical piano at the Royal Conservatory of Music and York University before launching her solo career as a singer-songwriter. She currently studies music and philosophy at the University of Toronto.
And of course, there’s lot’s more to discover about Sarah Slean! Canada Reads asked Sarah what some of her favourite Canadian books were and below you can see what she chose. To read what she had to say about these books head over here. While you’re there you can also see what music this Canadian songstress chose as the perfect companion playlist to Mercy Among The Children.
Previous Canada Reads 2009 Posts
- Spotlight on Fruit by Brian Francis (defended by Jen Sookfong Lee)
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