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Mercy Among the Children Hardcover – October 8, 2001

4.0 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Transpose Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure to New Brunswick's rugged Miramichi River. Surround Job with loose fists, malicious boots, and cold, gallon wine. Invite the Macbeths over for drinks. Add a lame dog named Scupper Pit and you've got the raw ingredients of David Adams Richards's Mercy Among the Children. Set in an isolated, wind-besieged house with bullet holes in the tarpaper walls, Richards's novel wonders-- pointedly, beautifully--whether goodness is merely a luxury.

At the age of 12, having borne more suffering in his child's body than any adult should endure, Sydney Henderson vows never to harm another human soul. Turning his back on the violent alcoholism of his upbringing, self-educated Sydney wins the honest respect of the beautiful Elly and the children they bear. Honest respect, however, is rarely a match for fear and base human opportunism. Manipulated, attacked, and abused by a small community eager for a scapegoat, Sydney loses his job, the health of his wife, and, most importantly, the respect of his son Lyle. "There is no worse flaw in man's character," Richards knows, "than that of wanting to belong."

The superb, controlled, and unapologetic Mercy Among the Children is nothing less than an inquiry into human strength. Richards uses the crack of ribs on a frigid night to remind us of the opportunistic populism of much so- called morality. Mercy, which shared Canada's premier fiction award, the Giller Prize, with Michael Ondaatje's Anil's Ghost, combines the hound dog's attention to locale of fellow Maritimer Alistair MacLeod with the quotidian insight of countryman Timothy Findley's The Wars, especially its reminder that the emotions behind war also drive fights over who should scrub the dinner dishes. --Darryl Whetter

From Publishers Weekly

Unrecognized yet in the States, Canadian author Richards should win new readers here with this stark and affecting novel. A working man living in a shack in the "Stumps," an area of New Brunswick dependent on timber and tourism, Sydney Henderson has the unfortunate knack of arousing hostility among his neighbors by the unconscious display of his virtues. As a child, he was beaten by his father, sexually abused by his priest and once nearly killed a playmate. Out of such experiences he has forged a Tolstoyan moral credo, educating himself in literature and art and refusing to meet violence with violence. When Sydney marries Elly Brown, who is judged too beautiful to be matched with the town's poverty-stricken outcast, the scapegoating gets worse. Rebuffed by Elly when he attempts to rape her, a vindictive Stumps resident joins a scheme that eventually causes Sydney to be blamed for crimes he hasn't committed, including manslaughter and child abuse. The novel is narrated by Sydney's son, Lyle, who, in opposition to his father's stoic pacifism, craves revenge. In trying to exact it, he becomes feared, but is inwardly polluted. Worse, he injures those he loves most. The dogged narration takes some time to acquire dramatic tension, but eventually its unflagging rhythm becomes addictive. Though some readers may recoil from the book's frank depiction of pervasive poverty, Richards shows how powerfully the novel can operate as a mode of moral exploration a fact sometimes forgotten in the age of postmodern irony. (Oct.)Forecast: Richards's novel won Canada's 2000 Giller Award (shared with Ondaatje's Anil's Ghost), and critical attention should give it a boost here, too. Arcade is ordering a 35,000-copy first printing and sending Richards on a four-city author tour.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 371 pages
  • Publisher: Arcade Publishing; 1st U.S. ed edition (October 8, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1559705868
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559705868
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,412,382 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Charlotte Vale-Allen VINE VOICE on June 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Here is a book about poverty, both of the spirit and of the pocket. Written in spare, tidy prose with exceptional characterizations, it is a dark tale periodically shot through with veins of pure gold; moments of such exquisite sweetness (in the character of little Percy, or the aging but quietly heroic Jay Beard) that they are painful. There is nothing stock about the narrative or about the characters who are among the most fully realized I've ever read. The good people (the Hendersons) are all forgivably flawed in some small way. And the bad people are understandable in their angry manipulations, in their negative strengths and human weaknesses. This is not light reading but it is potent and powerful, an evocation of the lengths to which the very poor can be driven. Lyle Henderson, son of the Job-like Sydney, narrator of the family history is a most believably tortured and loving soul. One hopes, throughout this book, for affirming moments that never materialize. Yet there is such truth here that I found it impossible not to keep reading.
I am dismayed that I didn't know of the award-winning David Adams Richards before reading this book, but I will certainly be reading his other books at the first possible opportunity. The author's talent is rare and wonderful; his eye is clear and he wastes no time on frilly adjectives. This is prose (and truth) at its purest--a truly remarkable achievement.
My highest recommendation.
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Format: Hardcover
I believe that I can easily say this is one of my all time favorite reads. It is wonderfully written, the life philosophy it portrays is ideological but many times it gives you a painful feeling for what is happening to the Henderson family.
The Hendersons seem to go through many hardships throughout their lives. Both husband and wife, and their two children, from the day they first interact with society they feel they are different, or even outcasts.
Sydney refuses to fight back, or think badly about anybody, even his greatest "enemies" though they put him through hell. He insists to be there for them when they need help, and to be kind to them whenever their paths may cross. His son Lyle, and the narrator of the story, witnesses that his father's niceness does not pay back, "the others" continue on hurting them, and plotting for Sydney's fall. Lyle decides to be different from his father, that he will always fight back and that he is not "fearful" like his father, and nobody will ever hurt him or his family again. But as Lyle gets older, he sees that his philosophy of fighting back also does not help him in life. On the contrary events that progress always makes him think about his fathers words "He who hurts others hurts himself."
It is definitely a book that most will enjoy reading, but if you are looking for a light read happy book, you might want to pass this one. It is a light read, because it's so well written but it is not a very happy book. I strongly recommend everybody to read this Canadian Giller prize winning novel from David Richard Adams.
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Format: Hardcover
Mr Richards is something of an unknown quantity, even in his native country, Canada. Most of his books focus on the east coast of Canada, its inhabitants and the way they are sculpted from the land and the circumstances they find themselves in.
For me probably the best word that describes it is "fable." Mr Richards is trying to make a point, a very difficult one to accept. I'll leave it to the reader to decide just what that is but you will not be able to put it down.
I grew so attached to the main character Sydney and his family that it felt lke a betrayal to put the book down. I was dying for some relief, some justice for this man. Mr Richards does not give in easily though and stays true to his course. He does not let the reader off lightly.
There are moments of obvious sentimentality but they are forgiveable.
I actually felt humbled by my own personal shortcomings and character faults as I read of the goodness of Sydney and his completely principled existance.
Mr Richards has shown that he is a brilliant study of human nature. His observances will convict you of the pettiness that so many of us live our daily lives.
This book is not for everyone but I wish it was. Goodness has an enduring quality while evil has its own rewards.
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Format: Paperback
Richards, and this book, had been praised to the skies both by professional critics and personal friends, so I overcame my prejudices against long, depressing family sagas and read it.
I will say that Richards is a very talented writer, and there are turns of phrase I will never forget. I also loved a few of the characters, in particular Autumn, the narrator's albino sister. However, I felt afflicted most of the way through the book. It seemed that there was far too much misfortune to believe for this one poor family. It's not that I had trouble believing that someone as good as Sidney Henderson would be exploited (nor did I find his character unbelievable, since his goodness was practically a disease in itself) but so many of the misfortunes seemed to relu on coincidence, and they came at the Hendersons unrelentinly.
Moreover, the conclusion was almost Dickensian in its mania to tie up every loose thread, and connect all sorts of characters in unlikely ways. And yes, I was touched by it, but I was infuriated afterwards.
Nonetheless, now that book is finished with, I do have a desire to read some of Richards other books. I just hope they will be a little less overwrought.
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