MERCY SHORT: A Winter Journal, North Boston, 1692-93 by Norma Farber

MERCY SHORT: A Winter Journal, North Boston, 1692-93

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Called a novel, written in the form of diary entries, and based on Cotton Mather's records, this is the story of bewitched 17-year-old Mercy Short, now an indentured servant in Boston after being ransomed from Indians who killed her parents and captured Mercy and other children. Written at the bidding of Mather, who wants Mercy to record all her experiences with the Devils who torment her, the diary begins, in a manner both stiff and effusive, with expressions of praise and attachment to the minister and horror toward the demons: ""But Mr. Mather is divine light itself. How blest I am to have been ransomed. . . by Mr. Mather's own church. . . . What malefic influence caused my torment all at once to kindle?"" Gradually, though, pleasant memories of her childhood and of life with the Indians intrude, as well as grief for the half-Indian child she bore and lost while with them. She seems to be recovering--but Mr. Mather says to write only of the Devils, and so she decides to continue the diary in secret. Now the memories grow more openly favorable; the hints that Mr. Mather himself may have done some of the (vaguely cited) lewd fondling previously attributed to the demons become broader; Mercy openly complains of Mather's Puritan harshness; and finally, recovered, she openly speculates on further Devil visits she might invent. In these later entries the writing too becomes a little freer but never really overcomes the cramped and artificial conventionality of the period style. (Out on a spring day in one of her more euphoric moments, she goes to watch ships' masts being made from trees: ""Remembering those great giants of our forest, . . . I longed to see close above me the soaring columns. . . ."") Nor does Mercy ever come to life as an individual outside of her schematized history. Instead there are paragraphs of social-studies information, not without its own interest, on such matters as how the Indians prepared their meals and how Bostonians of the time fought fires. The last entry is all joy and exclamation points because a man Mercy fancies has asked to court her--but a postscript taken from Cotton Mather's diary five years later notes that she has been excommunicated for adultery. This might be interesting material for a novel but in Farber's hands it remains dry as bones.

Pub Date: Nov. 10th, 1982
Publisher: Dutton