Oh jeez guys, oh jeez. I seem to have been on a streak lately, reading books about children dying, being kidnapped, and other horrible things. Billie Livingston’s The Crooked Heart of Mercy continues this terrible theme as it begins with the accidental death of a two year-old, while he is at home with him Mom and Dad (so, essentially every parent’s worst nightmare). I can’t claim ignorance about the premise of this novel, I read the blurb on the inside cover, I knew this was going to happen, but still, I plodded on and finished the book. I have always enjoyed Livingston’s writing, so I hoped that this would be worth it.
I was right, this novel is amazing, like everything else Billie Livingston has ever written. Yes, it describes some horrific things that forced me into my daughter’s room late at night just to make sure she was ok (I thought I had gotten over that phase in my first few months of motherhood, guess not), but it ends with hope, and lightheartedness, which was exactly what I needed from this story to sit comfortably with it once finished.
The toddler death wasn’t the only heart-wrenching part of this novel. Parents abandon kids, people get addicted to drugs and alcohol, a protagonist tries to commit suicide, the list goes on. But almost all of these things happen in the past, and the majority of the present day narrative is about working through grief, and reconciliation. Each character has their own demons to contend with, and yet at the end of the day, they are all totally relatable. Plus, humor can be found in almost every page, which is something that we all use to help deal with loss, at one time or another. So not only does this book turn tragedy into something bearable, it was also a delight to read, because it depicts life at its best and worst, taking the reader on a roller coaster of emotion, but leaving us giddy at the end.
Another reason I loved this book? It was the perfect length, just long enough; not surprising when Livingston’s short stories are fantastic. You’ll notice that many novelists who also write short stories aren’t likely to write big long tomes that give the reader hand cramps to get through. It’s because they use prose sparsely, which is much more difficult, but so much more enjoyable to read (and edit, copy-edit, proof, sell, publicize, etc.). Thank you Billie Livingston, for choosing your words carefully.