Evil is as evil does
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 ponderous 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.