About the book, The Crooked Heart of Mercy
• Paperback: 272 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (March 8, 2016)
From acclaimed Canadian novelist Billie Livingston comes this powerful U.S. debut that unfolds over a riveting dual narrative—an unforgettable story of ordinary lives rocked by hardship and scandal that follows in the tradition of Jennifer Haigh, A. Manette Ansay, and Jennifer Egan.
Ben wakes up in a hospital with a hole in his head he can’t explain. What he can remember he’d rather forget. Like how he’d spent nights as a limo driver for the wealthy and debauched . . . how he and his wife, Maggie, drifted apart in the wake of an unspeakable tragedy . . . how his little brother, Cola, got in over his head with loan sharks circling.
Maggie is alone. Again. With bills to pay and Ben in a psych ward, she must return to work. But who would hire her in the state she’s in? And just as Maggie turns to her brother, Francis, the Internet explodes with a video of his latest escapade. The headline? Drunk Priest Propositions Cops.
Francis is an unlikely priest with a drinking problem and little interest in celibacy. A third DUI, a looming court date. . . .When Maggie takes him in, he knows he may be down to his last chance. And his best shot at healing might lay in helping Maggie and Ben reconnect—against all odds.
Buy, read, and discuss The Crooked Heart of Mercy
About the author, Billie Livingston
Billie Livingston is the award-winning author of three novels, a collection of short stories, and a poetry collection. Her most recent novel, One Good Hustle, a Globe and Mail Best Book selection, was nominated for the Giller Prize and for the Canadian Library Association’s Young Adult Book Award. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.
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Make no mistake, this book, The Crooked Heart of Mercy is dark. It’s a difficult read, told in alternating first person chapters from Ben and Maggie, one of whom in in a psych ward, and the other of whom probably should be. It’s obvious from the start that these people have deep love for each other, but that love is being tested by circumstance, by low-percentage choices, and half a dozen other reasons that I don’t wish to list for fear of ruining the story.
The thing is, even though Maggie and Ben love each other, they’re both also fragile and broken. Maggie is trying to get her life back together, while Ben is trying to put his brain back together, and each, in their way, is also recovering from both a terrible personal tragedy, and the knowledge that their lifestyle was responsible for that tragedy.
Enter Maggie’s brother Francis. He’s a gay, alcoholic priest who decides that the best way to serve his penance, and kill his temptation for sex and booze, is to helf fix Maggie and Ben, as individuals and as a couple.
Author Billie Livingston nails the first person POVs giving each character a distinctive voice. Ben’s parts are particularly surreal, as he literally has a hole in his head, while Maggie’s work the pathos – she really is struggling to improve.
I enjoyed the dark wit, the off kilter unfolding of the back story, and the earthy reality of the entire novel, but I also recognize that even for people like me, who appreciate snark and sarcasm and characters with somewhat murky moral codes this will be a difficult read. It deals with some difficult subjects and hard themes, and it deals with them in a brutally honest manner, but the storytelling is so good, that it sucks you in despite yourself, and you are compelled to keep reading until the ultimate resolution.
Goes well with pastrami on rye and a cold beer.
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