Reviewed by Şirin Tugbay
I picked Billie Livingston’s book out of the You Review list with a quick scan of the other books and reading bits of blurbs about this book. “Acclaimed Canadian author” and comparison to Jennifer Egan got my attention, and I picked The Crooked Heart of Mercy. I think somewhere in a corner of my brain, I was secretly hoping for a book version of the Belgian movie The Broken Circle Breakdown – a tragic love story with interesting characters, enough tragedy to make you cry your heart out and still want to watch it again later. What I got, however, was an attempt at a tragic love story with mediocre characters and a book that I would not really want to reread at any point.
The Crooked Heart of Mercy is at its core a love story between Ben and Maggie, their strong love for each other before and after the tragic loss they experience. Neither of them had it easy through childhood – Ben with a drunken father and a well-meaning but unreliable brother, and Maggie who lost her parents early on and has a scandal-prone priest brother, have found each other and seem to have found stability and love. Until their mutual loss which unravels both of them.
The premise and the characters lay the ground for a potentially good book, but I did not feel invested in neither Maggie nor Ben, neither did I feel I understood what was going on with Maggie’s brother. If he is meant to bring Religion into the picture as a balancing side to the spirituality undertones, it doesn’t delve deep enough to do a good job, which can be said for the whole book: I was left craving for something more. Overall, I found The Crooked Heart of Mercy a quick read, but not the “powerful debut” that it is advertised to be.
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Şirin can also be found on Twitter: @sirintugbay.