When you only do what is expected of you, you never learn what you would’ve done had you chosen for yourself.
“We understand what we want to understand.”
Leaving a life of privilege to strike out on her own, Lauren Durough breaks with convention and her family’s expectations by choosing a state college over Stanford and earning her own income over accepting her ample monthly allowance. She takes a part-time job from 83-year-old librarian Abigail Boyles, who asks Lauren to transcribe the journal entries of her ancestor Mercy Hayworth, a victim of the Salem witch trials.
Almost immediately, Lauren finds herself drawn to this girl who lived and died four centuries ago. As the fervor around the witch accusations increases, Mercy becomes trapped in the worldview of the day, unable to fight the overwhelming influence of snap judgments and superstition, and Lauren realizes that the secrets of Mercy’s story extend beyond the pages of her diary, living on in the mysterious, embittered Abigail.
The strength of her affinity with Mercy forces Lauren to take a startling new look at her own life, including her relationships with Abigail, her college roommate, and a young man named Raul. But on the way to the truth, will Lauren find herself playing the helpless defendant or the misguided judge? Can she break free from her own perceptions and see who she really is?
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Review of The Shape of Mercy
Determined to step out on her own and put privilege behind her, Lauren Durough searches for a job as she begins her college education. Not only did her choice of a state college over Stanford upset her parents, but the idea of their daughter working will also be deplored.
Not long after beginning her job search, Lauren sees a note on the student bulletin board looking for a typist. The notice is faded and frayed. Obviously, no one else has been interested. Lauren decides to investigate the prospects. This is how she ends up transcribing the diaries of Mercy Hayworth, an ancestor of 83-year old Abigail Boyles, a former librarian.
Susan Meissner intricately weaves together the stories of three women. Lauren and Abigail learn from one another about their generations, and Lauren learns from Mercy’s diaries. Quite often authors don’t handle the transitions between the historical time period and the present leaving the reader struggling to put the story together. Meissner is a master at this in The Shape of Mercy. I had no difficulty when reading how Lauren was drawn to Mercy’s story and her romance in our current time period, and alternately reading Mercy’s 1692 and 1693 diary entries, which were exquisitely and beautifully written.
I worried at first that references to the Salem witch trials would make the book too dark for some readers. However, I was pleased with the way Meissner was able to set the scenes so that, although the trials might be offensive, the reader understood the current worldview in the late 1600s and its impact.
The Shape of Mercy is a story of love and love lost, the tragic executions, and wasted years. Meissner also shares a story of hope, one that will erase guilt and regret if we accept God’s mercy and faithfulness.
My Recommendation: With excellent plotting, great character development, and intricate scene building, Meissner gifts us with a beautiful, loving story of a time many centuries ago. I recommend The Shape of Mercy to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.
Meet Susan Meissner
Susan Meissner was born in San Diego, California, the second of three. She spent her childhood in just two houses. Her first writings are a laughable collection of oddly worded poems and predictable stories she wrote when she was eight.
She attended Point Loma College in San Diego, and married her husband, Bob, who is now an associate pastor and a chaplain in the Air Force Reserves, in 1980. When she is not working on a new novel, she is directing the small groups ministries at The Church at Rancho Bernardo. She also enjoy teaching workshops on writing and dream-following, spending time with my family, music, reading great books, and traveling.
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