19 March 2016

Review #372: The Crooked Heart of Mercy by Billie Livingston

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you.”

----John Green

Billie Livingston, a Canadian author, pens an emotional and stirring family drama in her new book, The Crooked Heart of Mercy that unfolds the story of a couple coping with a sad tragedy and how it tears them apart and how their families try to contribute towards their hearts' reunion, whereas on the other hand, this couple separately tries to help their family from their troubles in their own way. The story is all about forgiveness, grief, and love.


Ben wakes up in a hospital with a hole in his head he can't explain. What he can remember he’d rather forget. Like how he’d spend nights as a limo driver for the wealthy and debauched….how he and his wife, Maggie, drifted apart in the wake of an unspeakable tragedy…how his little brother, Cola, got in over his head with loan sharks circling.

Maggie is alone. Again. With bills to pay and Ben in a psych ward, she must return to work. But who would hire her in the state she’s in? And just as Maggie turns to her brother, Francis, the Internet explodes with video of his latest escapade. The headline? Drunk Priest Propositions Cops.

Francis is an unlikely priest with a drinking problem and little interest in celibacy. A third DUI, a looming court date.…When Maggie takes him in, he knows he may be down to his last chance. And his best shot at healing might lie in helping Maggie and Ben reconnect—against all odds.

Maggie is a cleaner for the rich old ladies with her husband, Ben, trying to get better while living in a mental ward, who used to work as a limo driver for the rich. Their life as well as marriage is now hanging from a thin spool of thread as a painful catastrophic event changed the course of their struggling yet satisfied lifestyle. While descending through their own downward spiral, both Maggie and Ben had to deal with their troubled family members, especially siblings. Francis, Maggie's brother, ends up living with Maggie after his scandalous stint with the police and turns towards her for her help. Cola, Ben's brother, is another a guy who has lot of debts on his head from the notorious money-lenders. Francis takes up the opportunity to reunite the grieving souls and do his part as a priest at least for once. But will he be successful?

The author's writing style is exquisite and quite unique, as the book is centered around pain, loss and grief, yet the author layered the tone of the book with dark humor page after page. The narrative is simple and free-flowing and the story is told from both Ben and Maggie's POV. Ben's POV though it is tough to comprehend with as he is suffering from mental trauma, yet it was interesting to ponder over his thoughts. Maggie's POV has humor and pain and it pulled me into her imperfect world with lots of sympathy.

The pacing is not too fast or too slow as the story is quite short, it can be easily read within few hours and not to mention as the story develops, it enveloped me with heartache for both the characters. But at times the story perturbed me with so much challenges thrown on the way of these two grieving characters. The story is quite engaging and I found myself getting glued to it midway into this story.

The characters are well developed and are interesting to read about as their stories unfold. The main characters, Ben and Maggie, both are projected with their goodness in their heart and that made me feel their sorrow too deeply. Francis on the other hand, is a priest who needs to find absolution because of his unholy acts. I loved the character of Francis as he is depicted with his flaws and how he tries to evolve himself from the bad light towards goodness. Cola is another such character who is lazy and always on the lookout for shortcut and that is which draws him into life-threatening troubles but his demeanor is cool and calm devoid of any fear. Lucy is the friendly old lady who too helps Maggie in a lot of ways.

This book has so many multi dimensional characters and each one had their own story to foretell and that gave more depth to Ben and Maggie's story. Overall, this is a poignant story where the author explores so many various relationships and challenges in such relationships.

Verdict: Literary fiction fans will find this novel engrossing as well as heart-touching.

Courtesy: Thanks to the author, Billie Livingston, for giving me an opportunity to read and review her novel. 

Author Info:
Billie Livingston is a fiction writer, poet, and essayist. Born in Hamilton, Ontario, she grew up in Toronto and Vancouver, and has since lived in Tokyo, Hamburg, Munich, Los Angeles and London, England. Her first employment was filling the dairy coolers in a Macs Milk. She went on to work varying lengths of time as a file clerk, receptionist, cocktail waitress, model, actor, chocolate sampler, and booth host at a plumber’s convention.

Livingston's writing has been nominated for a National Magazine Award for journalism, the Journey Prize for fiction and the Pat Lowther Award for poetry. Greedy Little Eyes, a collection of short stories, was cited by The Globe and Mail and The Georgia Straight as one of the year's best books and the collection went on to win the CBC's Bookie Award as well as the Danuta Gleed Literary Award for Best Short Story Collection. Her 2012 novel, One Good Hustle, was long-listed for the Giller Prize and became a year’s best book selection for several publications including The Globe and Mail, Now Magazine and January Magazine. In 2014, her story, “Sitting on the Edge of Marlene,” was adapted to film by director, Ana Valine and starred Suzanne ClĂ©ment, Paloma Kwiatkowski, and Callum Keith Rennie.

She lives in Vancouver, BC, with her husband, actor Tim Kelleher.
Visit her here 

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