THE CROOKED HEART OF MERCY by Billie Livingston

THE CROOKED HEART OF MERCY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Following the death of their toddler son, Maggie and Ben Smith struggle to find the emotional space not only to grieve, but also to mend their broken marriage.

Livingston (One Good Hustle, 2012, etc.) crafts an achingly fragile portrait of two battered and bruised people. Two-year-old Frankie fell to his death while Ben and Maggie celebrated Ben’s birthday with a little Xanax (a perk of Maggie’s job tending to old ladies) and red wine. Shattered, Ben has little time to mourn before his younger brother, Cola, shows up in desperate straits, owing money to drug dealers. To make matters worse, their alcoholic and abusive father is in the hospital, testing the limits of Ben’s compassion. Unable to silence the guilt-stricken voices in his head, Ben attempts suicide, ending up in a psych ward instead of a grave. A hollow shell, he can't even admit to himself that his name is “Ben.” Maggie has moved out but is continually sucked back into the vortex of grief whenever ghostly memories of Frankie scramble onto her lap. Despite dissolving into tears at her job interview, Maggie is offered a job helping the eccentric 80-year-old Lucy McVeigh, a widow fond of spiritualism. Meanwhile, Maggie’s brother, Francis, has moved in with her, awaiting rehab. Francis vows every day to recommit to his faith and to his job as a Catholic priest. It’s a struggle compounded by not only his homosexuality, but also his love of the bottle, which landed him in the drunk tank and in a starring role, propositioning a cop, in a viral video. As Ben muddles through interviews with his psychiatrist and Maggie negotiates the probing questions posed by the mediums at Lucy’s United Church of Spiritualism, Livingston beautifully teases out the bitter humor needed to endure the long shadows of grief.

These hearts heal with scar tissue.

Pub Date: March 8th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-06-241377-2
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2016




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