The Shape of Mercy: A Novel

The Shape of Mercy: A Novel

by Susan Meissner

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“We understand what we want to understand.”

Leaving a life of privilege to strike out on her own, Lauren Durough breaks with convention and her family’s expectations by choosing a state college over Stanford and earning her own income over accepting her ample monthly allowance. She takes a part-time job from 83-year-old librarian Abigail Boyles, who asks Lauren to transcribe the journal entries of her ancestor Mercy Hayworth, a victim of the Salem witch trials.

Almost immediately, Lauren finds herself drawn to this girl who lived and died four centuries ago. As the fervor around the witch accusations increases, Mercy becomes trapped in the worldview of the day, unable to fight the overwhelming influence of snap judgments and superstition, and Lauren realizes that the secrets of Mercy’s story extend beyond the pages of her diary, living on in the mysterious, embittered Abigail.

The strength of her affinity with Mercy forces Lauren to take a startling new look at her own life, including her relationships with Abigail, her college roommate, and a young man named Raul. But on the way to the truth, will Lauren find herself playing the helpless defendant or the misguided judge? Can she break free from her own perceptions and see who she really is?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307758330
Publisher: The Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/02/2010
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 60,748
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Susan Meissner has been feeding her love of writing all her life. Her first novel, Why the Sky is Blue, was released in 2004, after she resigned her post as editor for a local newspaper in a rural Minnesota town. Since that time she has had several books published and moved to San Diego, where she lives with her family.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I’ve heard the story countless times, how I grasped the delivering doctor’s scrubs as he guided me into the Durough family universe of opportunity and duty. My father likes to say I came out of my mother’s body insistent on being taken seriously, declaring to the doctor who held my slippery limbs that I was no helpless female unable to forge her way through the world of men.

I’ve seen the video. My father had the camcorder rolling when my mother pushed me into waiting hands. Dad’s aim was discreet, thank goodness, because he’ll sometimes show that video when he tells the story. He’s even downloaded it onto his iPod. I’ve seen my open, squalling mouth, heard my mother’s throaty cries and a nearby nurse’s words: “It’s a girl.” My infant body is a glistening, angry shade of pink, and I am indeed grappling for the doctor’s clothes as if prepared to wrestle him to the floor. My father loves that.

Whispered conversations over the years–which I wasn’t meant to hear–have suggested my father enjoys retelling this story because he needs to reassure himself it’s not the end of the world that God didn’t bless him with a son. Neither was I supposed to hear that my clutching at the doctor’s clothes could just as easily have been a cry of, “Help! I’m falling!” rather than, “Stand aside! I’ve arrived!”

I’ve long wondered if the whispering people are right. About both.

Imagine you are six, and you’re hiding under the dining room table, hidden by the damask cloth that covers it, and all you can see are the shiny, pointed toes of women in stilettos, clicking their way from room to room. Their skirts swish. Their porcelain coffee cups make delicate scraping sounds as they lift and lower them onto saucers. They’ve just heard Bryant Durough tell the story of how his daughter, Lauren, was born.

His only daughter. His only child.

Born grappling for power.

One of them titters. “So like a man to see it that way.”

“I heard Bryant and Julia have tried everything to have another child,” another says.


“Oh, that’s so sad. They’re such wonderful parents.”

“In vitro, too?”

“Yes. They tried in vitro three times. Three times it didn’t take.”

“Oh, dear.”

“Think they’ll adopt?”

“Goodness, no.”

“No, I suppose not.”

“I imagine it’s hard for Bryant to be unable to pass along his side of the Durough name.”

“There have always been sons born to Duroughs. He’s the first not to have one.”

“And to think his brother has four sons. Four!”

“Bryant puts up a good front, but I bet it drives him nuts.”

“Well, at least they have Lauren.”

“Mmm. But you know, for a man like Bryant Durough, it’s not the same.”

You hear this, and you haven’t a clue what in vitro means, and you don’t know who didn’t take what they should have taken and why that is so oh-dear sad.

You do know who Bryant and Julia are.

And you know what the words “have another child” mean.

And the words “at least they have Lauren.”

You crawl away unseen and ponder the idea of another child, another child, another child for hours.

You wonder if having another child means someone wants to buy a new one. You wonder what happens with the old one.

What do they do with the old one?

Throughout the day you consider this, but you don’t say anything. You just let it tumble around in your six-year-old head. You stare at the picture in your bedroom of Jesus watching over a boy and a girl as they walk a dark forest path, and you wonder if the boy and girl are brother and sister and if Jesus loves them both the same.

When your mother tucks you in later that night and she leans down to kiss you and the scent of sweet apples is all around her, you look into her face and see nothing there but loveliness. The worry begins to fall away into the darkness and you reach out your hand to touch her tummy, the place where babies grow. It is flat and smooth. She looks down at your hand and then back up. Her eyes are wide.

You pull your hand away.

She stays a moment longer, caressing you on the forehead where a damp curl rests, and whispers, “Sweet dreams.”

She moves away from the canopied bed with its matching French provincial armoire and dresser. A seashell night-light glows at her ankles as she stands at your half-open door and blows you one last kiss.

It will be another six months before you hear again the story of how you were born.

It will be years before you find out what in vitro means.

And you will never be sure why you grabbed the doctor’s clothes.

When I met Abigail Boyles, the woman who hired me to transcribe the diary of a girl who died too young, she said to me, “You’re an only child, aren’t you?”

I asked her how she knew.

She said, “I’m one too.”

As if that were answer enough.

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Shape of Mercy 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 72 reviews.
BlogfulofBooks More than 1 year ago
"We understand what we want to understand." ?The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner is classified as contemporary fiction, but I must report that it is much, much more. A mixture of history, romance, and mystery, The Shape of Mercy is a thrilling and inspiring tale of three women who realize the importance opinion and judgement play in every aspect of life. Lauren Durough is a young college student on her way to becoming CEO of her wealthy father's company, yet she longs for a life free of judgement and superficiality. Abigail Boyles is an eighty-three-year-old retired librarian with many secrets who employs Lauren to transcribe an ancient diary written by Mercy Hayworth, a young woman victimized by the infamous Salem witch trials. I was not sure about this story at all when I received it from WaterBrook Multnomah, and the title did not even register with me. It wasn't until I finished the book that I realized what The Shape of Mercy really means. I can't say much about the story besides what is above because it would be so easy to give it all away. All I can say is that this book is on my Best of 2011 list already, and its only February. Susan Meissner's writing style is spectacular; it is one of the best first-person tales I've read. Her descriptiveness is impeccable, and her characters are so well developed. I've never read any of her books before, but I can say that, after this one, I am a fan! She tastefully tackles history and romance in this book, something I can't say about all authors. At the end of the book Susan Meissner notes that Mercy Hayworth is a fictional character -- she was not actually part of the Salem witch trials -- but all other information in the book is accurate. Still, she did a wonderful job making me believe the diary, the girl, and the story were real. The only thing that I didn't approve of was the lazy mentioning of God. Besides one character taking the Lord's name in vain twice (which shocked me in a book published by a Christian company), God and prayer are mentioned loosely and vaguely. I rather wish God had been removed altogether; putting Him in last place doesn't sit well with me. This aside, the book is a great one. If you like mystery, historical fiction, romance, and great writing, you will love The Shape of Mercy. I received this book for free from Water?Brook Multnomah via Blogging for Books. All opinions of this book are my own.
spyderk More than 1 year ago
If a book makes me cry, I tend to think it's pretty good because it moved me in some way. And perhaps I identified with something in this book, which made it all the more comforting to read. This book was not predictable like a lot of Christian fiction was. I finished it in 1 day, and I wish it had been longer!
LadyLeslie More than 1 year ago
The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner is a definite read! Once I sat down to read this book, I had a hard time putting it down. Lauren Durough, is a single young woman from a prestigious family. She has grown up with all the things money can bring her while growing up but she doesn't really like living that way. She decides that she wants to earn some money on her own and lands a job transcribing an ancestral journal, for an 83 year old librarian, that belonged to Mercy Hayworth. Mercy Haworth's story is set in the 1600's during the Salem witch trials. Lauren finds herself deeply connected to Mercy's life and secrets. Mercy's life makes Lauren take a deeper look at her own life. Throughout the transcription of the journal, Lauren learns what mercy really means and is able to see and find her true self in it. She learns that about society's stigmas and stereotypes on those who are not as wealthy as she has been. She finds love in an unexpected young man and she learns truth about who she really is and not who others believe her to be. I will read this book again, that is how much I liked it and I will definitely be passing this one on. I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.
lanalucy More than 1 year ago
It took me a while to get to this book, because I found a box of more interesting books while I was waiting for this one to come in the mail. Lauren, a college co-ed with a trust fund (or two), decides to support herself through college, starting this semester. She finds a handwritten job notice about a transcription job, and after following up with the employer, Abigail, becomes intrigued. Abigail wants a journal transcribed, and is very particular about how the work is done. Lauren reads, transcribes and imagines, all while getting to know Abigail, one tiny droplet of information at a time. The journal in The Shape of Mercy belonged to Mercy Hayworth, a young woman accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials. The journal is written as a first-person account of Mercy's life, in a small town quite near Salem, as the accusations of witchcraft began and gained momentum. Though this account is fictional, it reads as if Mercy Hayworth actually lived, and left me wanting to delve into some history or read more first-person accounts. I enjoyed the book, and can recommend it to anyone who enjoys a little bit of history, very tame romance, or journals/diaries from historical figures. And though the backbone of the book is the journal and its entries, there was sufficient current storyline to keep me interested in the main characters who were living, as well.
catwoman522 More than 1 year ago
College sophomore Lauren Durough is trying to escape a life of privilege by attending a state school and living in the dorm like a "normal' person. She decides to take a part-time job in order to prove that she can make it on her own. She accepts a job transcribing a 300 year old diary into today's language. The diary is of a teenage girl who lived during the Salem witch trials. Mercy Hayworth, the diary's author, had been accused, tried and convicted of witchcraft and wrote about it all in her diary. The diary's owner, 83-year-old Abigail Boyles, has her own secret motives for wanting the diary transcribed. As the book progresses, Lauren is caught between the world of Salem in 1692 and today's world of social classes and preconceived notions. This was an AWESOME read! I thoroughly loved it. This is the first book I have read by this author and it makes me want to read more. She makes the characters so deep, so real and complex that you feel the turmoil within Lauren as she struggles to mix what she has been taught about money and social status and what she is learning in the real world. You get caught up with Mercy and her plight to stop the witchcraft madness back in Salem, all the while knowing her fate is sealed and it can't be changed. You feel frustration as well as sympathy for Abigail as she regrets choices she made in the past, choices that can't be changed and haven't been forgiven. And through it all, God's hand is seen weaving the circumstances and changing these three woman's lives. In the end, you are left with a book you just can't put down until you are done. I give it 5 out of 5 stars! Go buy it today!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Masterful writing of a beautiful, touching story.
whitreidtan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Lauren Durough is the only child of a fabulously wealthy and successful entreprenurial father. She has spent her whole life trying to live up to the family legend of success and ability. But she doesn't want to do everything the way that she imagines her father wants her to and so she enacts small moments of rebellion, choosing to go to a state school instead of Stanford. She lives in a dorm with a roommate instead of alone in a fancy condo. And she has now decided that she wants to forgo the allowance that has made her college life so easy so she applies for a job. But Lauren is not finished walking off the beaten path, applying for a job in which none of the other English majors is interested. And when she goes to Abigail's gracious home and hears that the job is to transcribe Abigail's distant relative's diary from the time of the Salem witch trials, she wants the job desperately.The novel weaves the stories of Lauren, the elderly Abigail, and the long deceased Mercy together. Mercy's diary was probably the most interesting bit of the story but instead of choosing to portray it in the language and tone of the times, Meissner chose to have the diary be in modern language which made it hard to distinguish between Mercy's voice and Lauren's. There was no real legitimate argument for having Abigail ask Lauren to not only transcribe the diary but to transliterate it as well to make it accessible to a modern reader. If Abigail's intention was to have the diary published, an intention she disclaims, that might be one thing but as she doesn't there is no compelling reason to her request, thereby robbing the novel of some of its authenticity.The love story between Mercy and John Peter is sweet and charming as portrayed in the diary and certainly is a foil to the long ago love of Abigail's that Lauren pushes to discover. But the story of Abigail's love and loss is abrupt and never fully fleshed out making it hard to compare it to the sacrifice that Mercy makes. Many of the plot threads in the story are not so much left dangling as ignored completely once the end of the story nears and that is a frustrating thing. I don't think the strived for parallels between all three of the women were as successful as I suspect they should have been. I didn't love the book, because of these flaws but I'm not sorry I read it. There was potential there and the nugget of the story was a good one that just didn't fully work.
debs4jc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This novel packs a powerful punch as the reader gets drawn into the dramatic story of a young women involved in the Salem witch trials. The story starts in the modern day, however, as Lauren--a college student with a trust fund--becomes intrigued by an ad posted on a school bulletin board. It is a help wanted ad for someone to transcribe a diary. Lauren answers the ad and despite the imposing nature of the diary's owner, Abigail Boyles, she gets the job and is thrilled to learn that the diary belonged to a young girl living in Salem during the time of the witch trials. What Lauren doesn't count on is how emotionally involved she will get with the story of Mercy, the author of the diary, and how it will affect her own life choices.This novel is so intriguing on many levels, but mainly because of the excellent job of capturing the drama of the Salem witch trials and the difficult choices that Mercy was faced with. Fans of well written Christian fiction, and those who love history must read this one.
resugo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
this book is about three women: Lauren, the main narrator, who finds a job with Abigail, and old lady, transcribing the journal of Mercy, a Puritan who lived during the Salem witch trials. In the beginning I was more interested in Lauren and her story. I was actually tempted to skip some of her journal entries because I didn't care very much. But by a third of the way through it was Mercy's story that kept me reading. I liked Lauren a lot, Abigail some, and Mercy tons. The next morning after finishing this book I woke up thinking about Mercy. And for weeks afterward. I think this book wonderful.
cyndidd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I wasn't sure if I would like Susan Meissner's book, *The Shape of Mercy*, since it's focus seems to be the Salem witch trials. But, I was in for a surprise. Lauren Durough goes to work for an elderly woman, transcribing a diary written by a girl accused of being a witch during the Salem witch trials. As Lauren uncovers more of Mercy's story, she also learns more about herself. I would encourage just about anyone to read this book. It is a story within a story, and a very well written one at that.
ElizaJane on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Lauren, a college student from a rich family, takes on a job as literary assistant to a lonely old woman, Abigail, who has a family heirloom, a 17th century diary written during the Salem witch trials. This has been in her family for centuries and Lauren is hired to make a translation in everyday language. As Lauren translates the diary she becomes emotionally attached to the young woman, Mercy Hayworth, who was tried and convicted as a witch.The narrative switches between the present timeline and lives of the characters to entries from the journal as they are transcribed. On one level this is the story of Mercy (a fictional person) and the almost unbelievable true events that she dealt with in Salem 1692 and on another level it is the story of Lauren and Abigail as they come to terms with their own very difference prejudices that they have laid upon loves ones in their respective lives. As I found the link to this book on the publisher's website I saw it listed as Christian Fiction. Don't let that make you have your own prejudice against whether you would read the book. As a Christian myself, I honestly didn't realize it was Christian Fiction until I saw it called so. The only religious aspect to the book, aside from the Salem witch trials, is that the characters believe in God and in passing the author mentions that they pray or go to church. While the theme of the book is a Christian one of not judging others that theme transcends Christianity to all walks of life. I loved this book. It was a page-turner. I was enthralled with the diary entry parts of the books and the characters of Lauren and Abigail were full of depth and all the characters felt real to me including the minor ones. A well-written, absorbing, and heart-felt book. Recommended.
Sararush on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Shape of Mercy¿s, Lauren, is the quiet introvert as in she doesn¿t have any friends that she isn¿t related to. She is forever trying to make up for the fact that she isn¿t the son her father wanted. So she does everything her family does not expect in an attempt to forge her own path in life. A literature major in college, Lauren is near obsessed with proving that she isn¿t a rich snob, so she takes an odd job¿transcribing a diary of an accused Salem witch. While earning her spending money she discovers kindred spirits in her employer, Abigail, a wealthy recluse and the diary¿s doomed author, Mercy. Learning from the past while on the cusp of her future, Lauren questions her destiny.Susan Meissner recently spoke about this book, and she relayed that this book is about the individual power everyone has to effect their own and other¿s circumstances. When reading the book, the reader understands that it¿s never too late to take an action towards improving our world. This message may be why the book is classified as Christian Fiction, not detracting from that message, but this novel could have just as easily been branded Women¿s or Historical Fiction. The story transcends genre and becomes simply a great read as good a recommendation to your Grandmother as it is to pre-teens.The book is well shaped with endearing characters that are near impossible to resist. Mercy¿s fate, Abagail¿s life, and Lauren¿s preconceptions are all revealed slowly which builds the novel¿s suspense layer by layer. This novel is at times syrupy sweet and sentimental but always satisfying. If you loved, THE HERETIC¿S DAUGHTER by Kathleen Kent or DELIVERANCE DANE by Katherine Howe, you¿re sure to enjoy Meissner¿s Salem interpretation.
taramatchi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What this book had going for it... A powerful diary of a girl who was to be hanged in the Salem witch trials. The story of Mercy through the diary was strong and I looked forward to these snippets.What was not so great... The book was preachy. The author was very overt on her message and what she wanted the reader to take from this book. Although I don't think that the book says it is contemporary fiction, I can see why people have shelved this book as christian lit.
bell7 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Lauren has always lived a life of privilege, but she goes to a state school, lives in a dorm, and wants to get a job, even though she could just use her parents' allowance and live off-campus. The job posting that most intrigues her is a transcription job, and her boss is an older woman who has refused the job to many English majors before her. Abigail owns the diary of Mercy Hayworth, a woman accused of witchcraft during the Salem trials, and wants someone to not only transcribe the diary but also understand Mercy. When Lauren takes the job, she finds herself immersed in this other woman's life, and starts questioning assumptions she's made all her life.I tend to like books with first-person narration, because I can stay in a character's head and feel like I'm getting to know them, so using both Lauren as a narrator and Mercy's diary was a neat device and helped me "know" both characters. Some things seemed resolved a little quickly (an Internet search here, and problem solved...), but it was a good story and left me feeling happy in the end.
mrsjason on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Lauren is a rich girl who has chosen to be on her own, away from her wealthy family. She is a college student trying to fend for herself. She manages to get a job transcribing the diary of an ancestor of a former librarian. Lauren begins to get lost in the world of Mercy, a young woman living during the Salem Witch Trials. She finds herself being drawn into a tale that she knows will end tragically but she finds she cannot stop herself from reading. As she continues with her work, Lauren begins to see how a girl who lived centuries ago shares the same feelings and angst that she herself feels today.Wow when I finished this book, I nearly broke down and cried. This book was so moving and heartbreaking. Just like Lauren, it was difficult for me to keep reading Mercy's entries in the diary. Yet I too kept being drawn towards it. Even though I am one who tends to want to know the ending first, this time I didn't want the story to continue. I wanted Mercy to be able to enjoy her life as long as she could. I didn't want to read about the wrongful accusations and the hardships she was forced to suffer. And just like Lauren, I was not eager to read about her death. The Salem Witch Trials was a time in our nation's history that is very dark and one period that would like to be forgotten. I think what made the event more tragic was that it was supposedly all done in the name of Christianity. This unfortunately NOT Christ intended for his followers to act like. I understand their intentions but I really felt that the Puritans of that time didn't really understand God's love and grace. Lauren's story is equally as enthralling. I think the reason why I enjoyed it as much as I did was because she's around the same age as I am. I personally didn't see anything wrong with her way of thinking as opposed to her roommate, who actually got on my nerves at times. But I liked her character very much, and her job of transcribing the diary sounds like a dream job for a history major like myself. Abigail too held an interesting story, and it was hers that made me want to cry. A lifetime of regret due to being afraid to love. Susan Meissner has created another masterpiece. Every one of her books has made my top 10 list of the year and this one definitely will be added to it. VERY HIGHLY recommended.
nu-bibliophile on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It was so easy to be captivated by all the characters and their stories. The story continues to unfold and pulls you in up to the very last page.
cherryblossommj on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is one of the most deeply moving novels that I have ever read, and without a doubt it is going on my favorites' shelf in my permanent library. The Shape of Mercy is a story that crosses generations and is both historical and contemporary. I can easily find myself relating to Mercy from early American history as well as Lauren from contemporary life. Life and love is an incredibly deep concept and is amazing how they affect our day to day lives and decisions. As human beings, no matter what century we live in, we care about what other people think (no matter how much we argue it) and live our lives in a small manner to fit into a specific place. The sociology of our day to day environment shapes us and often times it is to something that we do not like, but it is what it is and what we need to live with. Susan Meissner is an incredible organizer of words that fits together some beautiful poetry and prose to give the shape of the ideal of mercy. Through this book, I was taken into three different worlds and captivated. Life went on for me outside of this book, but the book never left my thoughts. Lauren dreamed of Mercy, and I dreamed of them all. Susan created a masterpiece that stays with you and makes you think. This is the first I have read from her, and I cannot wait to pick up something else equally as inspirational and convicting. I do not know how to go pick up another book after such an experience.
Arlene70AL More than 1 year ago
This is the second Susan Meissner book I have read and it was another excellent read. Going back in time is a fun trip and you really get to care about Mercy as well as the people looking into her life. You'll enjoy the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book gives you insight into what the Salem trials were about.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have always been interested in the Salem Witch Trials afyer having learned that one of my ancestors, Samuel Wardwell, his wife, and his eldest daughter Mercy were accused of witchcraft. Of the three, Mercy plead guilty to witchcraft and lived, Samuel was hung in the last hanging Salem had before the governor put a stop to it, and Samuel's wife was released soon after the governors declaration, but only lived a few years after-- having contracted an illness in jail. Their family was tore apart-- the children being parceled out to various relatives and forced to work for their keep. It was all very sad. This book really brought the past to life for me-- how my ancestors would have lived, how the community reacted and perhaps how many people felt privately about the whole thing. It really touched my heart. Mercy was such a sweet girl and ahead of her time in many ways. She had her whole life ahead of her only to have it robbed from her because of a petty and selfish girl who was jealous of tje loveMercy and John Peter had for one another. These trials brought out both the worst and the best in people-- those accused could have taken the easy way out and admitted they were a witch. But most had the character, the strength, and the spiritual convictions to maintain their innocence and stand up for what they believed. While others used it to hurt those they found fault with and take advantage of the poor, the pious, and anyone unusual, and to settle old scores. It is a really dark period in our history. But I loved how the author wove it in with the present to show how reading about Mercy affected her life and the way she saw the world.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great story by a wonderful author.
cmairep More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this beautifully written book.