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The Mercy Seat Paperback – May 1, 1998
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The center of the evolving story is the conflict between Mattie's father and his brother. John Lodi is skilled in the art of blacksmithing and gun making; Fayette Lodi is anxious to use that skill to turn a profit for himself. Although the brothers travel west together and eventually settle in the same corner of Oklahoma in the valley of the San Bois Mountains, they have no shared ideas on how to create new lives for themselves or their families. Violence eventually erupts, but it goes beyond the two brothers to infect their wives, their children, and the very land they inhabit.
It is a story that mirrors that of Cain and Abel, yet its biblical echo is only one of the features which make this multilayered, beautifully crafted novel so enjoyable. There are hints of Faulkner, too, as Askew employs his technique of using a number of voices to tell the story: there is Mattie herself, mother before her time to her younger siblings, yet refusing to mature into a woman; there is Thula Henry, Choctaw woman who both understands Mattie's gifts and tries to exorcise her demons; and Grady Dewberry, loquacious son of John's employer recalling events that marked his childhood.
This is more than just a simple repositioning of the Snopes from Mississippi to Oklahoma, however. It is a vision of the settling of America with a deep and abiding appreciation for the combustible elements that participated in it. Evangelical preachers riding their circuits, Native Americans pushed farther and farther west, former slaves freed from their masters but not from prejudice, and white men on the run from the law of the more settled East, all figure prominently. Some patience is required as the central tragedy looms, but for the most part, the novel is poignant, gripping, and even heartbreaking. --K.A. Crouch
From Library Journal
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
I'm waiting for my memory of it to cool so I can read it again. Visit Mattie, Fate, John. Maybe lay a compassionate hand on their shoulder.
Reviews, comparisons, and synopses fail the book. It is not just a good read. It is an experience.
For thirty-five years, I had the great joy of teaching university literature courses,and I tell you there are not five writers who reach as deep into the human heart as Askew. Faulkner, yes, Toni Morrison, Proust, Flannery O'Connor. (Henry James, but at what cost to the reader!) And though never in a novel, Emily Dickinson reached that terrain again and again. (And of course several of the Russians, but of them I can't speak, having read only wonky translations.)
What gets in the way of human happiness and fulfillment? Why, we do, we ourselves. Each one of us blocks our own way, hinders those we love,and in turn is savaged by them. Askew takes a small handful of ordinary people, and lets us accompany them on the heart-breaking trek. She shows us how a gift can be anathema to one who has it and to one who envies it. Young Matty is mystified and beleaguered by her metaphysical gifts; her father is hectored almost unto death by a brother's insane craving for his great skill, even genius, as a gunsmith. Thula Henry, a Choctaw wise-woman, has healing gifts and spiritual insight that she neither quite trusts nor can ignore.
Though the book is long, Askew still exercises the great skill of not telling us as much as we might want to know. What IS the matter with Matty's beautiful younger sister? And just what did the terrible fever do to her brother Thomas, who is present in many scenes, yet not there? Less than halfway through the book, another brother, Little Jim Dee, disappears, and we're told nothing, but we are left free to unravel that thread.
THE MERCY SEAT is as full of beauty and terror as the great plains of the Oklahoma prairies where it is set. Come to THE MERCY SEAT and find out for yourself.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
For the most part, I enjoyed this book, especially the writing itself. However, toward the last third it began to drag with too much detail. Read morePublished on March 19, 2011 by POV
I'm not sure if it's the harsh reality of conditions on the frontier of anything or that I felt pity for Mattie, but from page one I was along on the journey in the covered wagon. Read morePublished on August 31, 1999
Ugh...after slogging through 420 pages, the end result was that I didn't give a hoot about any of the characters and am furious that I wasted my time reading this!!!!Published on July 9, 1999
I understand this is a first time novel, and it was a good try, but this story could have been told in 250 pages, not 400. Read morePublished on February 8, 1999