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Mercy's First Semester Kindle Edition
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W.M. Bunche tells the story of a young man, home after two tours as a Cavalry Scout in Iraq, Joshua Mercier, "Mercy." Mercy is intelligent, passionate, complex. He suffers with PTSD and as part of his therapy he is encouraged to take a writing class at a local college. Much of the story is told through Mercy's writings for a creative writing class. Although the timeframe of the book actually lasts for only a period of months, just a little more than a college semester, the story that is told goes far back into Mercy's childhood. We are with Mercy in Iraq, we know the people he knows and I feel a little PTSD for having walked with him through it. This book reads as an honest compilation of a life. I want Mercy to survive, I want him to succeed at finding the answers he needs, even as I understand that his psyche is fragmented, even as I understand that the there are no magic buttons. I desperately wanted to press one for him.
I don't want to give away how the beginning comes to the end, because it's a journey everyone should take, with an honest and open mind. I was heartbroken at times, as this novel unfolded, and Mercy felt every bit as real to me as if I had grown up with him down the road. This is not your typical war story, it's not your typical recovery story, it's not your typical reminiscent story. There is nothing at typical about this book. It is a book that should not be overlooked.
I really enjoyed this book. The premise is that Mercy joins a memoir writing course to bump up the classes he needs to take at college, and we learn of his early life and much of his military career through the assignments he has to write for his class. The tone is uneven, the past and present and military flashbacks tumble randomly around and then out of the blue the whole story suddenly goes oddly sideways before settling down again and finishes on an unexpectedly tense final denouement. There are some strange punctuation decisions. Conversations all run together, some with speech marks, some not, with more than one person speaking on the same line to the point that I had to read and re-read some paragraphs three times to work out who was saying what. But the over-all effect is rather convincing. It all reads exactly like a man learning to write and express himself for the first time and following a stream of consciousness. You feel like you really know the man and are rooting for him – that he’s a friend of yours too. It feels up close and personal. And when it gets random, it gets random in the way that all conversations between friends inevitably get late at night.
If any of you have ever read the Christian testimony book ‘Run Baby Run’ by Nicky Cruz, (about a Puerto Rican gang leader in one of the poorer neighbourhoods of New York who finally makes good through the grace of God) then in parts this book has the same tenor as that. In this story too, the hero’s soul is up for grabs. Everyone has been praying for him for so long, but how can he believe in God when God has let him down so often? How can he be comfortable in church when he’s killed so many times and when the church disapproves of his actions? He tells them that it’s only because men like him have fought for their country’s freedom that they can be free to worship here at home in their safe little churches. But he only feels truly comfortable with those who have been through the same active tours of duty as himself because they will be the only ones who know what it is like to repeatedly have to pull the trigger. Will he ever make it to a happy post-tour life?