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When twelve-year-old Sidney Henderson pushes his friend Connie off the roof of a local church in a moment of anger, he makes a silent vow: Let Connie live and I will never harm another soul. At that very moment, Connie stands, laughs, and walks away. Sidney keeps his promise through adulthood despite the fact that his insular, rural community uses his pacifism to exploit h When twelve-year-old Sidney Henderson pushes his friend Connie off the roof of a local church in a moment of anger, he makes a silent vow: Let Connie live and I will never harm another soul. At that very moment, Connie stands, laughs, and walks away. Sidney keeps his promise through adulthood despite the fact that his insular, rural community uses his pacifism to exploit him. Sidney's son Lyle, however, assumes an increasingly aggressive stance in defense of his family. When a small boy is killed in a tragic accident and Sidney is blamed, Lyle takes matters into his own hands. In his effort to protect the people he loves—his beautiful and fragile mother, Elly; his gifted sister, Autumn; and his innocent brother, Percy—it is Lyle who will determine his family's legacy.


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When twelve-year-old Sidney Henderson pushes his friend Connie off the roof of a local church in a moment of anger, he makes a silent vow: Let Connie live and I will never harm another soul. At that very moment, Connie stands, laughs, and walks away. Sidney keeps his promise through adulthood despite the fact that his insular, rural community uses his pacifism to exploit h When twelve-year-old Sidney Henderson pushes his friend Connie off the roof of a local church in a moment of anger, he makes a silent vow: Let Connie live and I will never harm another soul. At that very moment, Connie stands, laughs, and walks away. Sidney keeps his promise through adulthood despite the fact that his insular, rural community uses his pacifism to exploit him. Sidney's son Lyle, however, assumes an increasingly aggressive stance in defense of his family. When a small boy is killed in a tragic accident and Sidney is blamed, Lyle takes matters into his own hands. In his effort to protect the people he loves—his beautiful and fragile mother, Elly; his gifted sister, Autumn; and his innocent brother, Percy—it is Lyle who will determine his family's legacy.

30 review for Mercy Among the Children

  1. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Quann

    Wait, please! Don’t scroll by! I’m going to do my very best to get you to click that “Want-to-Read” button located somewhere in and around this review. A relatively herculean task. I know this isn’t a buzz book, or one that you may be familiar with, and maybe you’ve never even heard of it. And hey, you might not even like it! But I was pleasantly surprised with this novel and I think a lot of you will be too. Also, I found my copy at a used bookstore for only $2, so it isn't even a huge monetary i Wait, please! Don’t scroll by! I’m going to do my very best to get you to click that “Want-to-Read” button located somewhere in and around this review. A relatively herculean task. I know this isn’t a buzz book, or one that you may be familiar with, and maybe you’ve never even heard of it. And hey, you might not even like it! But I was pleasantly surprised with this novel and I think a lot of you will be too. Also, I found my copy at a used bookstore for only $2, so it isn't even a huge monetary investment. Though it may seem quaint, Mercy Among The Children is a story about the difference between right and wrong. It is a deceptively simple concept that reveals itself to be anything but elementary in the pages of this 2000 Giller-prize winning Canadian novel. Morality After pushing a friend off a church roof, Sydney Henderson makes a pact with God that he will live a life without violence providing that the boy lives. So begins the troubles for the Henderson family. Though Sydney is the focus for the first half of the novel, the story is actually narrated by his son, Lyle Henderson. Sydney suffers one injustice after another in his childhood, lives in abject poverty, and is soon beset on all sides by rumors and accusations that quickly drive his family into further squalor. Despite his poverty, Sydney is well-read, a man of philosophy, who stays true to his pact to do no harm to others. Despite the reader knowing Sydney’s innocence, he is soon accused of a horrid crime that the city believes because of the sins of his father. The crime, perpetrated by those seeking to frame Sydney, enrages the community who visit shame and violence against his family. Though he is innocent, and though him speaking out against the men who framed him would exonerate him, Sydney says nothing. He endures the slings and arrows of the community (sometimes literally), in the steadfast belief that no man can harm another without harming themselves, and that true justice will find its way to those who deserve it. Sydney’s stoicism, quite frankly, had me shaking my head at this book. How could the man not speak out to save, if not his own skin, then that of his family? How could he allow abuse to befall him, and ridicule upon his children in the name of some foolish pact he made earlier in life? Why would he not fight against these men who seek to destroy him? Poverty By the time Sydney’s unyielding pacifism seems like it can go no further, the reader is reminded that Lyle has grown watching the ineffective nonviolence of his father and seeks a polar opposite path. I was ready for this. Sweet vengeance was ready to be served by Lyle! Lyle, who knows nothing but poverty, shame, and abhorrence his whole childhood. Lyle, who would abandon books and platitudes for pragmatic violence. Of course, it doesn’t quite work out like that. Instead, the story provides a complex look at how the choices we think are right can often be wrong, leading to an incredibly tragic conclusion. I enjoyed the way the book subverted my expectations, how it had me think if only this character would do X, then their problems would be solved only for them to it at great expense. It challenged me, and Richards does a splendid job of keeping you enthralled in this examination of morality and poverty. Financial poverty, poverty of the soul, and poverty of choice. Rural Canadian Life A confession: this book is set in my hometown of Miramichi, NB. I worried that I was enjoying the book for the nostalgia and my relatively-unique viewpoint alone. I mean, how could you not find it neat to read about streets you have walked, or places you have been? Assuredly, Richards handles the city with aplomb, knowing both the city and having a keen understanding of the people who inhabit its streets. There were people who seemed so familiar to me because they reflected the essence of the city, the nature of the people, and the culture. When characters made their choices, I understood them even if I was unable to agree with them. But then I began to realize that Richards has instead crafted a startlingly accurate portrait of rural Canadian life. He’s embodied the people who do good, those who are easily swayed, but never treats his characters like caricatures of rural life. Sure, people may live simple lives, but it doesn’t mean that they’ve never read a book. What’s more, the book is filled with a startlingly large cast. There are those who are extremely poor, those who profit off of their poverty, and those seeking to rise from their poverty by any means necessary. Though it may seem as if I’ve spoiled a lot of the book, I’ve really only shown you the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There are many other players in the mix, and their fates are interconnected with those of the Hendersons. The Darkness I imagine for a lot of readers that the seemingly endless darkness of the whole book will be too oppressive or the violence too shocking. By the same token, I think a lot of people will have a hard time with Lyle. Though I’ve never been of the opinion that a character being despicable is reason enough to hate a novel, I know a lot of readers just can’t handle characters who aren’t good guys. Fair enough. But for those of you like me, who enjoy characters for their complexity rather than a synthetic goodness, you’ll enjoy Lyle. The most apt comparison I can think of is Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad. Like Jesse, Lyle can be tough to like, he’s self-destructive, violent towards those he loves, and just can’t seem to pull himself out of the hole he keeps digging. What’s more, Richards has the tendency to pontificate in his narration, which bothered me more at the start of the novel then at its end. Though I usually prefer the author to show and not tell, it works well in the confines of Lyle’s narration to have him apply meaning and lessons learned to his life. There’s also a lot of Jesus going on, which isn’t my thing, but it doesn’t pervade the story so much that it takes away from the reading. The story also takes a while to get going. It was close to 100 pages before I was really hooked, though it is necessary for Richards to set up all the pieces on his board before pitting them against each other. Lyle’s narration, too, will be a challenge for some. Aside from the aforementioned pontification, the writing has a weird lilt to it that takes some time to get used to, and it had me reading a bit slower until I got into it’s rhythm. The ending? If anything the book ties up everything a bit too nicely. There's a revelation that should have been cut out as it just borders on too unbelievable to be plausible, and it was the only moment of the book that I was taken out of the reading experience. However, I was more than pleased with the end of Lyle's journey. Did I Sell You On This One? Hopefully I’ve convinced you that Mercy Among The Children is a novel worthy of your consideration if not your valuable reading time. I had put this novel off for so long for various reasons, but one being more personal. I have a scattered bit of writing lying around that will, hopefully, magically assemble itself into a novel one day. I worried that one author’s viewpoint about the city would pervert my own writing. Of course, it is good to know what has been done before so as not to repeat it. In any case, one of my good friends told me I had to read the book as it is one of his all-time favorites. Reluctantly I complied, but I’m very glad that I did. While I doubt the book will be for everyone, it is definitely a novel that you should put on your radar if you haven’t already. Also: thanks for sticking around to the end of one of my longest reviews!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Brad

    I take great interest in any novel that explores violence, so David Adams Richards's Mercy Among the Children, with all its accolades and set as it is just across the bridge from the island where I live, was a must read. I had high expectations because Mercy Among the Children tied Anil's Ghost (another book about violence) for Canada's Giller Prize, and because everyone I knew who'd read it adored it. By the time I was finished, though, the most I could muster for this book was an "It's okay." An I take great interest in any novel that explores violence, so David Adams Richards's Mercy Among the Children, with all its accolades and set as it is just across the bridge from the island where I live, was a must read. I had high expectations because Mercy Among the Children tied Anil's Ghost (another book about violence) for Canada's Giller Prize, and because everyone I knew who'd read it adored it. By the time I was finished, though, the most I could muster for this book was an "It's okay." And it is okay. It is competently written. The dialogue is competent. The plot is competent. It's a little entertaining. For me, though, the characters are too stock to be believable, and I am not convinced of their authenticity (I live in the rural Maritimes, and I didn't recognize a single character -- apart from the broadest, clunkiest archetypes -- although the characters in Mercy Among the Children might simply have existed before my time. Still, like I said: "too stock"). Moreover, I felt like Richards was pontificating on his theme, and he was saying nothing new. Yeah, yeah, violence is bad; yeah, yeah, rural folk can be violent; yeah, yeah, rural folk can be mean to those who are different; yeah, yeah, it's sad that those who are different have to suffer. It's all been said a million times before and more effectively. I concede, however, that David Adams Richards's handling of the theme works for many, and I see how it does. It's comfortable, familiar, and delivered within the recognized bounds of late 20th and early 21st Century psychology. It toes the line and that makes it inviting. For me, though, it's just okay. It was a nice read. I enjoyed the setting. And I didn't hate the book despite my disappointment (which says a lot). I am running out of things to say. I want to say something nice about Mercy Among the Children before I stop writing, but I can't think of anything beyond "It's okay." Oh well, that will have to do.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    I found Sydney's character to be the most loathsome I have ever come across. And I do not say that lightly. For somebody to use the concept of high morals to justify allowing every member of his family to be battered and abused and to do absolutely nothing is completely unrealistic. It is perfectly possible to be a good, moral human being and look after the people you love using these very parameters. Sydney just did not. He was utterly selfish in his supposed drive to be a good person, which I f I found Sydney's character to be the most loathsome I have ever come across. And I do not say that lightly. For somebody to use the concept of high morals to justify allowing every member of his family to be battered and abused and to do absolutely nothing is completely unrealistic. It is perfectly possible to be a good, moral human being and look after the people you love using these very parameters. Sydney just did not. He was utterly selfish in his supposed drive to be a good person, which I frankly found ridiculous. I also did not believe that EVERYONE could be so consistently and relentlessly vile. I find it far more effective to balance misery with a touch of humor or show the tiniest sign of kindness. For example, Angela's Ashes - where life was equally miserable but ultimately more believable and touching for the rounded story of life it depicted. I will say that David Adams Richards is a fine author with a wonderful turn of phrase. His descriptions are immensely evocative and powerful. It could also be a testimony to his ability that I ended up feeling so intensely passionate about my dislike for this book. A badly written book would simply leave me cold or uninterested. Only one character in the whole book was remotely likeable to me - Jay Beard (and perhaps little Percy). Every single other character was unbelievably cruel and hateful without any sign of humanity. The characters are portrayed in soap opera-like one dimension. That is not life, I hope. That is not real, I hope. I say I did not finish this book because I speed read the last 60 or so pages just to be able to put it down. I would like to read another of this author's books as a comparison, because I did like his way of writing.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    “Mercy Among the Children” is one of the most beautifully written novels I have read. This literary work has justifiably received Canada’s Giller Prize for literature. It’s a bleak story, a story so full of sadness and cruelty that it leaves the reader depressed. I am not one who favors such novels, yet the remarkable and the moving prose led me to continue to turn the pages. The story is narrated by 20 something year old Lyle Henderson. Lyle is telling his story to a retired policeman who had an “Mercy Among the Children” is one of the most beautifully written novels I have read. This literary work has justifiably received Canada’s Giller Prize for literature. It’s a bleak story, a story so full of sadness and cruelty that it leaves the reader depressed. I am not one who favors such novels, yet the remarkable and the moving prose led me to continue to turn the pages. The story is narrated by 20 something year old Lyle Henderson. Lyle is telling his story to a retired policeman who had an early run-in with Lyle’s nemesis. Lyle wanted the Policeman to understand the affect that this one man had on his family and the plight of his family. Abject poverty defines Lyle and his family. Because of that poverty Lyle and his family find themselves in powerless circumstances. Author David Adams Richards mesmerizes the reader with the hopelessness that the disenfranchised endure. Yet, Lyle’s parents, Sydney and Elly, maintain dignity within their chaos. It is this quiet dignity that enrages Lyle because his father quietly and nobly faces injustice to him and his family. This would be a great book club read in that the opinions of Lyle and Sydney and there actions will be vast. I empathized with Lyle; I understood his frustration with father. Sydney is a mystical person with a strong moral compass and a bond with pacifism that suffered many sorrows upon his family. Richards also paints a bleak portrait of “Stumps” an area near New Brunswick Canada. I would not want to be a resident of that area. The Town folk are a miserable, gossipy, cruel bunch. Every town has a few of those, but Stumps is teeming with them. Plus the countryside, cruel winters, and destitute land make for a dismal backdrop to an unpropitious story. A big Thank You to Matthew Quann for reviewing and recommending this novel. It is an outstanding read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Petra

    So many themes throughout this book: strength vs pacifism, poverty/lack of voice vs privilege/voice, good vs evil (of course), truth vs lies and choices. There's alcoholism, abuse, destitution, vileness of people (the town's people are all basically selfish, mean, greedy), martyrs, rage and so much more. It's about facing your beliefs and living with them, the good & bad of this choice.....and who it may hurt or help. It's a story of family, father & sons and community. It's not a happy story but So many themes throughout this book: strength vs pacifism, poverty/lack of voice vs privilege/voice, good vs evil (of course), truth vs lies and choices. There's alcoholism, abuse, destitution, vileness of people (the town's people are all basically selfish, mean, greedy), martyrs, rage and so much more. It's about facing your beliefs and living with them, the good & bad of this choice.....and who it may hurt or help. It's a story of family, father & sons and community. It's not a happy story but compelling. I found myself wanting for things to change for this family. For Sydney to speak the truth, instead of waiting for the truth to come out. For Lyle to have patience and not give in to his fear and hate. This is a family who live lives of quiet desperation (Thoreau's words), and did so with a majesty of sorts. Elly's pure heart and Sydney's convictions & belief in the Truth build a strong family....but not without its problems as they try to find their way. There are twists and turns, some surprises, sadness. Although bleak, this story never dips into the hopeless, even when things seem hopeless. David Adams Richards can write. I plan on reading more of his works. This was a wonderful story of a good family with many crosses to bear.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Peachy

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Having picked up far too many books at the library on my last visit, I thought I wasn’t going to have the opportunity to finish Mercy Among the Children before its due date, but I made it a priority once hearing it was a Canada Reads 2009 selection. I will happily pay the late fees when entertained with such thought provoking and affecting storytelling as this. Our narrator, Lyle Henderson, has the misfortune of being a descendent of a father and grand-father who have been outcasts in their small Having picked up far too many books at the library on my last visit, I thought I wasn’t going to have the opportunity to finish Mercy Among the Children before its due date, but I made it a priority once hearing it was a Canada Reads 2009 selection. I will happily pay the late fees when entertained with such thought provoking and affecting storytelling as this. Our narrator, Lyle Henderson, has the misfortune of being a descendent of a father and grand-father who have been outcasts in their small New Brunswick town for decades. Poverty, alcohol and condemnation have all been sources of ridicule and embarrassment that these men have had to endure. Lyle’s father, Sydney, a compassionate, stoic and righteous man, lives his life under the “turn the other cheek,” philosophy, and has faith in the fact that those who attempt to hurt him or his family, will eventually hurt themselves. This is a tough pill to swallow for Lyle, who sees his dad’s inability to protect or stand up for the family as pacifism, and ultimately neglect. His eventual recourse is to become a renegade, as he starts to detest all the propriety and weakness that his father seems governed by. I would often find myself in a tizzy after reading the incessant small-town gossip and lies that run rampant throughout, and in disgust would throw the book down and pace my living room shouting obscenities at the ruthless and diabolical nature of the characters Richards has expertly presented us with. I would ferociously plead for Saint-Sydney to grow a spine and reject the false accusations made of him. As another one of his philosophies is never to beg the truth of anyone that wouldn’t understand it, for him justice was something that could only be obtained through patience, and waiting for others to self-destruct, not participating in injurious revenge. It was these instilled moral convictions versus a teenagers need be accepted and feel safe within the morally corrupt society around him, that ignited the internal battle between good and evil that Lyle found himself struggling with throughout this complex, tragic, and tightly woven tale. Although you won’t find any perfectly ‘happy endings’ here, there are substantial messages relating to spirituality, the essence of bravery, the possibility of redemption in spite of affliction, and the importance of truth, that leave me feeling challenged and inspired, no matter how lamentable the outcomes. I look forward to reading more of David Adams Richards’ work. www.booksnakereviews.blogspot.com

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lori L (She Treads Softly)

    Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards was originally published in 2000. Richards won the Giller Prize (Canada's most prestigious literary award), and the Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Award for Author of the Year and Fiction Book of the Year for Mercy Among the Children. Oh. My. Goodness. This is an incredible, heart breaking novel that will haunt me for years to come. The story of Sydney Henderson's family, as told by grown son Lyle, is about the price they all pay for Sydn Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards was originally published in 2000. Richards won the Giller Prize (Canada's most prestigious literary award), and the Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Award for Author of the Year and Fiction Book of the Year for Mercy Among the Children. Oh. My. Goodness. This is an incredible, heart breaking novel that will haunt me for years to come. The story of Sydney Henderson's family, as told by grown son Lyle, is about the price they all pay for Sydney's refusal to abandon his principles. The novel is stronger and richer because it is told from the son's point of view. It is about the nature of good and evil, and the relationship between fathers and sons. But it is unrelentingly sad. I wanted some justice for Sydney and his family. I wanted Sydney to fight back, but Richards kept Sydney true to his principles. This is a brilliant study of human nature and the selfishness and pettiness that rules the daily lives of so many people. Mercy Among the Children is not for everyone. It is simply so sad. I was anxious for the family. I bawled like a baby several times. Many readers, like me, will also be angry at all the people in the Henderson's lives who did not speak up and take a stand. In the end, Mercy Among the Children could be a parable showing that the truth will eventually come out, although perhaps not in the expected way. Oh, it should also be mentioned that Richards is an incredibly gifted writer. One of the best - Very Highly Recommended. http://shetreadssoftly.blogspot.com/

  8. 5 out of 5

    ❀ Susan G

    https://ayearofbooksblog.com/2016/07/... Book # 31 in my quest to read CBC’s 100 Novels that Make You Proud to be Canadian was Mercy Among the Children. While it is definitely not a feel good novel, it slowly draws the reader in and keeps them turning pages to find out what is next for the stigmatized, poor Henderson family. The New Brunswick author has been honoured to be a member of the Order of Canada and the Order of New Brunswick. Using first person narration, David Adams Richards tells a dra https://ayearofbooksblog.com/2016/07/... Book # 31 in my quest to read CBC’s 100 Novels that Make You Proud to be Canadian was Mercy Among the Children. While it is definitely not a feel good novel, it slowly draws the reader in and keeps them turning pages to find out what is next for the stigmatized, poor Henderson family. The New Brunswick author has been honoured to be a member of the Order of Canada and the Order of New Brunswick. Using first person narration, David Adams Richards tells a dramatic story through characters that are trapped within their destiny of poverty. Lyle tells the story of his family. There are 3 generations that are destined to remain the underdogs of their community starting with the grandfather who was falsely accused of arson, followed by the father, Sydney who could not seem to get a break despite his high IQ and kind, quiet goodness and the children: Lyle, Autumn and Percy who live in poverty and are ostracized at school and within their community. Lyle abhors his father’s inability to fight back, to quietly take abuse and to accept the lies and accusations that are made against him. Sydney insists that “if they destroy us they destroy themselves as well – not one breath of air comes against us that does not harm them as well” much to the frustration of the teenage boy. He cannot appreciate the goodness and kindness in his father who had made a deal with God that he would improve his ways after pushing another man off the roof. Lyle’s mom, Elly is accused of stealing from her employer and Sydney is implicated in the sabotage of a bridge being built which resulted in the death of a young man. Both are ineffective at pleading their innocence and assumed guilty by the community causing more humiliation, mistreatment and abuse to be piled on this family. While his sister tries to improve her own life and his little brother remains sweet and positive, Lyle resorts to violence and drinking. The story is full of twists and turns and the reader keeps on reading hoping for a positive resolution before it is too late. It is well-written and hard to put down despite as the reader hopes for goodness to shine through and lead to a positive ending. It shows the hope and resilience that impacts the characters who have been dealt a difficult life.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    It's bleak. Relentless. Dark. Frustrating. You won't like any of the characters. They're almost all self serving, grasping and just awful. The ones that aren't are mostly martyrs. It's told in the first person, Lyle, whose father, as a child, pushed another child off a roof and vowed if the child lived, he would never hurt another person. And he didn't. He never hurt anyone, he told the truth, he never stood up for himself, either physically or emotionally. As a result, his family suffered. They It's bleak. Relentless. Dark. Frustrating. You won't like any of the characters. They're almost all self serving, grasping and just awful. The ones that aren't are mostly martyrs. It's told in the first person, Lyle, whose father, as a child, pushed another child off a roof and vowed if the child lived, he would never hurt another person. And he didn't. He never hurt anyone, he told the truth, he never stood up for himself, either physically or emotionally. As a result, his family suffered. They were very poor anyway and the story shows what poverty can do and what it pushes people to do to survive and in this book, it's not usually good things. Everyone is out for themselves and covering their deeds when necessary at the expense of someone else. Lyle grows up resentful and violent, the opposite of his father. His rage seems relentless and powerless. There is one shining centre to the story, his little brother Percy who, I suppose, is meant to represent the good in all of us. The book is frustrating to read and really hasn't got a happy ending. Why do I give it four stars? It's also very well written and even though you don't like the characters, they make a lasting impression on you just the same.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    Okay, I'm starting to think my boss doesn't like me - this is the second book that she has given me that I didn't like. Again, I had high hopes for this book - it won the Giller in 2000 and the premise sounded promising. But that's where it ended. The characters frustrated me to no end. They seemed to either be too good to the point that they didn't want to stand up for themselves (ie. Sydney and Elly) or used and abused people all the way (Lyle, Mathew, Connie, Cynthia). The story wandered every Okay, I'm starting to think my boss doesn't like me - this is the second book that she has given me that I didn't like. Again, I had high hopes for this book - it won the Giller in 2000 and the premise sounded promising. But that's where it ended. The characters frustrated me to no end. They seemed to either be too good to the point that they didn't want to stand up for themselves (ie. Sydney and Elly) or used and abused people all the way (Lyle, Mathew, Connie, Cynthia). The story wandered every which way without really propelling the action forward, and anytime there was a significant event about to happen, the author would very obviously foreshadow that fact. And the ending with what happened with Theresa and Percy was just too perfect (in a bad way) to be plausible and to redeem the book. I think I'm going to stop reading the stack of books my boss gave me now.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn

    This is a very well written book, well deserving of its Giller prize. It evokes a sense of place, with the river and forest well described. This is also a profoundly sad, bleak, disturbing story. This is not a book for anyone who needs their stories wrapped up with everything resolved in a happy ending. At times I wanted to throw the book across the room, but couldn't stop reading long enough to do so. The setting is a small backwoods town with most of the main characters beset by poverty, alcoh This is a very well written book, well deserving of its Giller prize. It evokes a sense of place, with the river and forest well described. This is also a profoundly sad, bleak, disturbing story. This is not a book for anyone who needs their stories wrapped up with everything resolved in a happy ending. At times I wanted to throw the book across the room, but couldn't stop reading long enough to do so. The setting is a small backwoods town with most of the main characters beset by poverty, alcohol and drugs. It is the story of Lyle Henderson, his father and grandfather and the townspeople who give them grief. The family members are treated as outcasts. The grandfather died in prison, charged for a crime he did not commit, but the truth comes out long after his death. Most of the story involves his son, Sydney, and his family. Sydney makes a vow as a boy to lead a life of pacifism based on certain rigid beliefs he holds. One is to never beg the truth, because if you are the object of lies, people will eventually realize the truth. He is presented as a righteous, stoic, stubborn man. His reaction to lies told about him cause his wife and children to be picked on, and his enemies feel justified in making up more lies to scapegoat him. Early in the story he is accused of fathering an illegitimate baby. He refuses to take a paternity test as he knows the truth. Then he is blamed for stealing a box of fish. Even his accuser knows the true culprit, but it is easier to blame Stanley who never fights back. Instead, he goes out on the ice in the cold, and catches enough fish to repay the man for the fish he did not steal.His children are subject of cruelties and his wife sexually harassed, but Stanley still refuses to stand up against their oppressors.He is finally blamed for an explosion and the death of a child. Lyle begins to be ashamed of his father, considering him a coward and a weak man.Stanley continues to have faith that those who attempt to hurt his family will eventually be hurt themselves. He says he is sent these trials to test him and make him stronger. In the meantime a social worker is determined to remove the children from the parents, and their shack and land are in danger of being taken for back taxes. Stanley leaves for 3 years for employment in the woods, and saves a good amount of money for his family. He leaves for home. It looks like a happy ending, but things get much worse. Lyle grows into an angry, hard-drinking young man, ready to steal and fight. He finds his violence does not work any better than his father's pacifism. His father's belief was to never answer lies about him as the truth would eventually come out if you wait long enough. This is what happens, but by then it is much too late for Stanley and some of his family. 4.5 stars

  12. 5 out of 5

    Shirley Schwartz

    This book is filled with overwhelming sadness which somehow does not descend into hopelessness or melodrama. It is a difficult book to read. David Richards does not spare his prose when describing the everlasting poverty of the Henderson family. There is greatness in this family. The father Sydney is a truly honourable and brave man who will never show his anger to any other person, including his family. There is the mother Elly, who is a beautiful simple soul and one that unscrupulous people fe This book is filled with overwhelming sadness which somehow does not descend into hopelessness or melodrama. It is a difficult book to read. David Richards does not spare his prose when describing the everlasting poverty of the Henderson family. There is greatness in this family. The father Sydney is a truly honourable and brave man who will never show his anger to any other person, including his family. There is the mother Elly, who is a beautiful simple soul and one that unscrupulous people feel that they have a right to take advantage of. There is Lyle Henderson, the oldest son who renounces his father's pacifism, but finds that a life of fighting and hate and trying to exact revenge does not work any more than the pacifism does. Then there is Autumn Henderson-a beautiful albino girl with a very creative side to her. She has her mother's warmth and kindness. Then there is little Percy Henderson-an angelic little boy who seems to walk with the angels. These characters are so beautifully drawn by Richards. Yes, a difficult book but somehow there is hope that seems to keep springing up. Richards is merciless with his readers. He draws you in as he tells his sad and beautiful story. This book is a very worthy winner of the prestigious Giller prize and I recommend it highly.

  13. 5 out of 5

    John-Paul Teti

    This is a pretty good book, and I found it moving in some ways...but I also have a large problem with it, which is that Richards asks the reader to accept a very large number of coincidences. People who seem totally unrelated turn out to be siblings or cousins, misinterpreted phone calls turn into murder plots, etc. On the other hand, Richards’s writing is excellent; I’ve never been to the Maritimes, but I was easily able to imagine the scenes as he describes them, and the book does not drag. Bu This is a pretty good book, and I found it moving in some ways...but I also have a large problem with it, which is that Richards asks the reader to accept a very large number of coincidences. People who seem totally unrelated turn out to be siblings or cousins, misinterpreted phone calls turn into murder plots, etc. On the other hand, Richards’s writing is excellent; I’ve never been to the Maritimes, but I was easily able to imagine the scenes as he describes them, and the book does not drag. But it’s hard to get over the feeling of “enough already!” For what it’s worth, I also don’t think Sydney’s behavior is morally right, because his unwillingness to defend himself actually harms his family. But disagreeing with a book and disliking a book aren’t the same.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Allison ༻hikes the bookwoods༺

    This story is bleak, following the Henderson family and their most unfair lot in life. Through their plight, we are shown reactions in the extreme, wrath and mercy, and how neither in absolute allows for healing and moving on.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Glen Stott

    Suppose a man existed in the last half of the twentieth century who lived a nearly perfect life according the principals Jesus taught in the New Testament and followed the example He set. What would the man’s life look like? He would live in poverty – so would his wife and children. He would have a great deal of knowledge about the world and people. Not being Jesus, he would have to learn that knowledge; he would have to be a voracious reader of all types of books. He would forgive everybody of Suppose a man existed in the last half of the twentieth century who lived a nearly perfect life according the principals Jesus taught in the New Testament and followed the example He set. What would the man’s life look like? He would live in poverty – so would his wife and children. He would have a great deal of knowledge about the world and people. Not being Jesus, he would have to learn that knowledge; he would have to be a voracious reader of all types of books. He would forgive everybody of anything, and the forgiveness would come immediately following any affront to him or the members of his family. He would not tolerate any form of revenge from himself or his family members. Any act of revenge would lower the revenge seeker to the level of the object of revenge. Being accused of a heinous crime, he would not only not offer a defense, he would not even make a denial. He would forgive the accuser and willingly risk his life to save the accuser. Such a man is Sydney Henderson in “Mercy Among the Children.” Matthew Pitt is Sydney’s exact opposite. Matthew will do anything, turn on anyone, tell any lie, etc. to get what he wants, even at the cost of someone else’s life. He can commit a crime and blame it on someone else so effectively that he believes his lie to the extent he becomes outraged as if the victim had committed the crime. Between Sydney and Matt, the reader can find characters in every shad of gray. The rich man who donates freely to help others while acting in unethical ways to get and keep his money. The girl who uses her body to blackmail others and then sees a different light. The would-be rapist who lies to cover his crime by ruining his intended victim. And many more. In order to tell this story, Richards provides an all-knowing narrator. The narrator must know what each of his characters is thinking, what is motivating him/her, and why. This creates a story where a great deal is told rather than being show by characters’ actions. Telling so much of the story left me feeling like an outsider looking in and therefore less involved with the characters. In the prologue, we find that for most of the book the all-knowing narrator is Sydney’s son, Lyle. In the prolog, Lyle tells Mr. Terrieux, a retired policeman who saved Matthew’s life when Matthew was sixteen, that Lyle’s life and the lives of his family members were destroyed by Matthew, and that everyone would have been better off if Terrieux had let Matthew die at sixteen. It appears the point of the prologue is for Lyle to explain how he is going to be able to know all about the inner thoughts, histories, and motivations of all the varied characters; how he is going to credibly be the all-knowing narrator. He comes with an extensive collection of his notes and information he has meticulously collected. This is far-fetched - past the outer limits of a willing suspension of reality. Lyle’s narrative covers his life from his earliest years in school up to the present, when he comes to Terrieux as a middle-aged man. In all that time, there is never a period where he engages in any of this fact finding. He would have to interview each of the characters probing their memories of what they were thinking in each of the key actions and conversations they engaged in during the whole book. Even if Lyle had engaged in this great undertaking, it is incredulous to believe that every one of the characters would even remember the details, and many of the characters would not be giving this kind of information to Lyle. In one instance Lyle is giving extensive explanations of what is going through a character’s mind just before he dies. Absent a trip to the other side, there is no way for Lyle to get this information. It would probably have been more credible with a narrator a little more like Clarence Odbody from “It’s a Wonder Life.” What we do see is that Matthew is not the source off Lyle’s and his family’s problems. Mathew is just one of the characters who used and abused them, perhaps the worst, but problems came to Sydney and his family from many sources. In a way, Sydney’s ultra-passive philosophy attracted people who would, perhaps guiltily, hate him to the point of attacking him. Sydney was a constant reminder of what they should have been, but weren’t. This is a monumental examination of good and evil, and the enmity evil has toward good. It is a moving story with numerous touching moments as Sydney struggles through a life only his wife understands. However, it loses its five-star rating because I felt too much like and outsider looking in, and the premise of Lyle as narrator was unbelievable. It was kind of a three and a half, but I rounded it up to five stars.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Fischwife

    This was a depressing book, and I fail to see the point of all that misery, unless the message is the trite and obvious (and, unfortunately, false) one that goodness prevails in the end. It resembles a Shakespearean tragedy, in that the tragic flaws of the characters lead to much death and destruction. Like the movie, "The Pursuit of Happyness," the poverty, misfortune, and cruelty in this novel is so overwhelming, for such a long period of time, that when the tides finally turn, it is far too li This was a depressing book, and I fail to see the point of all that misery, unless the message is the trite and obvious (and, unfortunately, false) one that goodness prevails in the end. It resembles a Shakespearean tragedy, in that the tragic flaws of the characters lead to much death and destruction. Like the movie, "The Pursuit of Happyness," the poverty, misfortune, and cruelty in this novel is so overwhelming, for such a long period of time, that when the tides finally turn, it is far too little, too late. Even the "good" characters in this book aren't particularly likeable, with the exception of Percy. This book also has a weird narrative point-of-view. It's sort of First Person Omniscient, which contributes neither to clarity nor believability. While I was reading this, I kept thinking, "Maybe I have to be Catholic to get it." I felt the same way about Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald, and I thought of that novel a couple of times as I read this one. Interestingly, I just glanced at some of the other reviews and saw that another reader made the same comparison. I guess I just don't get into mucking about in all that mea culpa.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    I wasn't really planning to read another David Adams Richards book, after not really enjoying The Friends of Meager Fortune. I don't know, maybe I just didn't "get" it at the time. I picked this one up only because of Canada Reads, where it's being defended by the wonderful and talented Sarah Slean. A most excellent passage: "Men can grow up on my river, or in my province or anywhere and see nothing of violence or anger. There is as much rich or middle class here as anywhere - I have dealt with t I wasn't really planning to read another David Adams Richards book, after not really enjoying The Friends of Meager Fortune. I don't know, maybe I just didn't "get" it at the time. I picked this one up only because of Canada Reads, where it's being defended by the wonderful and talented Sarah Slean. A most excellent passage: "Men can grow up on my river, or in my province or anywhere and see nothing of violence or anger. There is as much rich or middle class here as anywhere - I have dealt with them. But if you are born in a shack near someone who wants your land, dislikes your presence, covets your wife, is angered by your marriage, you are in a part of the world millions and millions see and have no course to redress." And that sums up everything, not only in the book, but in the entire world.

  18. 4 out of 5

    CynthiaA

    This remarkable novel is one of the most profoundly sad and difficult fiction reads I've encountered in a long time. I would remind myself that it was a work of fiction, and feel grateful. Richards creates characters that evoke empathy in ways that were completely unexpected. Yes, I felt empathy with the unfortunate Hendersons -- Sydney the father who made a pact never to knowingly "hurt" only to scar his young son Lyle in ways he never truly understood. And Lyle, the boy so determined to become This remarkable novel is one of the most profoundly sad and difficult fiction reads I've encountered in a long time. I would remind myself that it was a work of fiction, and feel grateful. Richards creates characters that evoke empathy in ways that were completely unexpected. Yes, I felt empathy with the unfortunate Hendersons -- Sydney the father who made a pact never to knowingly "hurt" only to scar his young son Lyle in ways he never truly understood. And Lyle, the boy so determined to become different than his father, and yet was so like him he hid himself away. But I also empathized with those characters whose behaviours were abominable -- which surprised me and I credit that to the exemplary story-telling skills that Richards employs. This book made me feel ashamed -- ashamed of the many times I overlook poverty in my own community and ashamed of the complacency with which I accept my comfortable lifestyle as deserved. A truly remarkable novel.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Jackson

    This novel begins with two boys shoveling the snow off the roof of a church. They argue and one boy pushes the other and he falls to the ground. As he watches the boy motionless on the ground, the pusher sends a prayer to God. If he lets he pushed boy be OK, he will never strike out in anger again. The boy on the ground gets up and walks away unharmed. The other boy keeps his promise, and its impact on him and his children is the story of the novel. The idea of turning the other cheek is one tha This novel begins with two boys shoveling the snow off the roof of a church. They argue and one boy pushes the other and he falls to the ground. As he watches the boy motionless on the ground, the pusher sends a prayer to God. If he lets he pushed boy be OK, he will never strike out in anger again. The boy on the ground gets up and walks away unharmed. The other boy keeps his promise, and its impact on him and his children is the story of the novel. The idea of turning the other cheek is one that is not really celebrated in our culture. We like our heroes to "kick ass". Even I was frustrated that the character appeared to let the bullies walk all over him. But I kept reading and the journey was well worth it. It is a novel I wish Clint Eastwood would bring to the screen. This book and story will stay with you. One of the few novels that made me cry.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Connie

    This book is very compelling. This story gives you a view into abject poverty and the struggles. There are people who stay pure and most others cause you to gasp at their vileness. You will not like the characters, even the pure of heart are hard to understand. This story does make you look into your heart and soul and question your motives. I am very proud of our Canadian authors and the complex stories they tell.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ien van Houten

    I truly hated this book. I read it because a member of the book club was so moved by it. The writing is good, I will grant him that. But the basic premise, of a family destroyed because the father harbours an unreal guilt for something he did in childhood, did not speak to me at all. Relentless gloom, a book without summer.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Janice

    How much can one family endure? Do your sins really find you out? This is a heart wrenching story of a family in extreme poverty who are the victims of all the nasty aspects of society from the bullies next door to the bullies in government.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Karenita

    This is a complex, fascinating story about an impoverished family in small town New Brunswick, whose father is falsely accused by the local townspeople of act after act. Uneducated, yet a voracious reader of classics, Sydney develops a passivist persona. He does not fight back to clear his name, and the family suffers for this and remains poor, living in a little shack; unprotected. With an ailing mother, an albino sister and a little brother, the 16 year old son Lyle, takes on enormous responsi This is a complex, fascinating story about an impoverished family in small town New Brunswick, whose father is falsely accused by the local townspeople of act after act. Uneducated, yet a voracious reader of classics, Sydney develops a passivist persona. He does not fight back to clear his name, and the family suffers for this and remains poor, living in a little shack; unprotected. With an ailing mother, an albino sister and a little brother, the 16 year old son Lyle, takes on enormous responsibilty to provide for the family by cutting wood to burn for heat and hunt rabbit for food, until the pressure and exasperation at his father is too much and he goes astray with alcohol, thievery and disgusting himself. The plot thickens as the supposed crimes the father has committed are further contrived and exposed by a few dishonest and dispicable characters, each dealing witheir own dissolving relationships and greed. This story has birth, death, love, hate, murder, kindness, brutality, abuse, infidelity, theft, bribery, all crafted carefully and realistically. I needed to keep some notes at the start to keep track of the family tree and back round of the key players.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Devon

    A rough story about what happens in rural communities where horrible behavior gets normalized, where no one takes responsibility for their actions because their pride and shame are too strong. I kept wondering if I would believe this story had I not experienced being in certain communities of isolated rural Canada, myself, or if I had not driven up and down Highway 11 in New Brunswick several times hyper-vigilant because of crazy, irresponsible drivers trying to run me off the road in the day ti A rough story about what happens in rural communities where horrible behavior gets normalized, where no one takes responsibility for their actions because their pride and shame are too strong. I kept wondering if I would believe this story had I not experienced being in certain communities of isolated rural Canada, myself, or if I had not driven up and down Highway 11 in New Brunswick several times hyper-vigilant because of crazy, irresponsible drivers trying to run me off the road in the day time or hulking moose at night appearing suddenly out of the trees to cross the highway--both very real dangers. I had a hard time placing the story in the time when it takes place, though. And the women are all so thinly written as though they are pieces of furniture, not humans. Glad I read it in the summer when I would not get bogged down in the cold darkness of the story.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Alanna Truong

    I still have a lot of unresolved thoughts about this book, but Lyle's story is incredibly compelling. The book seemed to shift oddly from a gritty, realistic one towards some rather fantastical coincidences, but Lyle's struggles were the real drawing point, so that kept me from rolling my eyes at some of the unbelievable coincidences. And sometimes real life has those anyways. Definitely a good one for a book club! It has also reignited my motivation to read more difficult books.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ann-Marie

    "understanding the supercilious contempt weak men always had for the strong." What a interwoven, character rich (so many - you may need a character map) Canadian story of rural poverty. Despite the Maritime New Brunswick setting, it vaguely reminded of "A Prayer for Owen Meany" with the downtrodden but positive mindedness of Owen Meany and Sydney Henderson. A bleak story that questions "the other" and how no matter how we humans separate into our own self-described and characterized groupings, we "understanding the supercilious contempt weak men always had for the strong." What a interwoven, character rich (so many - you may need a character map) Canadian story of rural poverty. Despite the Maritime New Brunswick setting, it vaguely reminded of "A Prayer for Owen Meany" with the downtrodden but positive mindedness of Owen Meany and Sydney Henderson. A bleak story that questions "the other" and how no matter how we humans separate into our own self-described and characterized groupings, we are all still inter-connected. As we learn, sometimes in more ways than expected... This past Giller winner is worth the time to read and process.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Arlie

    What does it mean to show love? How do we show love in a broken world? In what ways do our sins follow us? The only thing truly missing from this fiercely contemplative novel is grace.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Julia

    Set in a rural, poor, backwoods community in northern New Brunswick, Syndey Henderson makes a pact with God to never harm another soul in his life, after he pushes his friends off the top of a roof, in a tussle. His friend doesn't die and Sydney then lives his life as he had promised God. Sydney has a wife and 2 children. He is the butt of nasty pranks and the scape goat in this community for everything bad that happens. Even his children are abused in school and around town. A kid at school, sta Set in a rural, poor, backwoods community in northern New Brunswick, Syndey Henderson makes a pact with God to never harm another soul in his life, after he pushes his friends off the top of a roof, in a tussle. His friend doesn't die and Sydney then lives his life as he had promised God. Sydney has a wife and 2 children. He is the butt of nasty pranks and the scape goat in this community for everything bad that happens. Even his children are abused in school and around town. A kid at school, stabbed Sydney's son in the arm, the son walked into the classroom with his arm bleeding profusely, and yet the teacher, the principal, everyone igonored the boys injury. Sydney was set up for an explosion that wrecked a bridge, he was set up for a murder in the town, his wife was sexually harrassed, and yet not once did Sydney defend himself or his family. This story was so hard to read, it became over-the-top tragic. In fact, it got ridiculous. It wasn't believable and that is why I could only give it 3 stars. It was darker than Rohinton Mistry's "A Fine Balance."

  29. 5 out of 5

    Candice Holt

    At the age of twelve, Sidney Henderson, in a moment of anger, pushes his friend Connie Devlin off the roof of a local church. Looking down on Connie’s motionless body, Sidney believes he is dead. Let Connie live and I will never harm another soul, Sidney vows. At that moment, Connie stands up and, laughing, walks away. In the years that follow, the brilliant, self-educated, ever-gentle Sidney keeps his promise, even in the face of the hatred and persecution of his insular, rural community, which At the age of twelve, Sidney Henderson, in a moment of anger, pushes his friend Connie Devlin off the roof of a local church. Looking down on Connie’s motionless body, Sidney believes he is dead. Let Connie live and I will never harm another soul, Sidney vows. At that moment, Connie stands up and, laughing, walks away. In the years that follow, the brilliant, self-educated, ever-gentle Sidney keeps his promise, even in the face of the hatred and persecution of his insular, rural community, which sees his pacifism as an opportunity to exploit and abuse him. Sidney’s son Lyle, however, witnessing his family’s suffering with growing resentment and anger, comes to reject both God and his father and assumes an increasingly aggressive stance in defense of his family. With a never-failing elegance and humane moral vision that call to mind Joseph Conrad and Thomas Hardy, David Adams Richards has crafted a magnificent, heartbreaking novel whose towering ambition is matched only by the level of its achievement.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lorraine

    This book feels almost epic in the sense that it does span three generations, though it is focussed mainly on the third. Lyle tells his story to Mr. Terrieux who saved 16 yr old Matthew Pit from drowning. The events of Lyle's life happened because Mat Pit survived and his actions subsequently impacted Lyle's family. It's the story of poverty, comparing poverty of money and poverty of love. It is utterly tragic in so many ways, even though there's always the glimmer of hope, the belief that the h This book feels almost epic in the sense that it does span three generations, though it is focussed mainly on the third. Lyle tells his story to Mr. Terrieux who saved 16 yr old Matthew Pit from drowning. The events of Lyle's life happened because Mat Pit survived and his actions subsequently impacted Lyle's family. It's the story of poverty, comparing poverty of money and poverty of love. It is utterly tragic in so many ways, even though there's always the glimmer of hope, the belief that the hero(s) will rise up against the bad guys. How heroes rise, how bad guys fall, is also a focus of the story. It's easy, yet spellbinding prose that keeps you reading effortlessly. The characters seem to be caricatures, yet you can't but realize (and sorrow for this) that they are not caricatures and that people like this really exist.

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