Monday, April 4, 2016

"The Crooked Heart of Mercy"

Billie Livingston is the award-winning author of four novels, a collection of short stories, and a poetry collection. Her novel One Good Hustle, a Globe and Mail Best Book selection, was nominated for the Giller Prize and for the Canadian Library Association’s Young Adult Book Award. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Livingston applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, The Crooked Heart of Mercy, and reported the following:
From page 69:
After Cola was born, there was no money for a sitter, so Ben stayed home to look after him while Miriam and the old man went to work. The old man cleaned the floors in public schools. Before that he had a factory job, making tar and concrete—until he crushed his thumb filling drums with hot tar from the spigot. He took what he could get: resentful kinds of work, the kind where you didn’t need an education.
What follows this excerpt is a scene that one reviewer called the most harrowing in the book. “The story itself though,” she added, “is far more concerned with how we connect, recover and heal, than in the machinations of tragedy itself.”

I often write about people with a working class sensibility. In the case of this chapter, I phoned my mother-in-law who grew up in a tough neighbourhood in the Bronx. I asked about her parents, what they had done for a living. Like Ben and Cola’s father, she said that hers “took what he could get: resentful kinds of work, the kind where you didn’t need an education.”

That line rang in my head like a bell. The characters in The Crooked Heart of Mercy are the kind of people who work as laborers, get blisters on their hands and feet, get their thumbs crushed in assembly lines. They are exhausted and those physical and spiritual wounds can cut right through the family.

My intention throughout the novel, though, was to find the light. The word Mercy comes from the Greek, Eleos, which means oil or a balm of healing. Ancient Greeks used olive oil as part of a medicinal healing practice. They would pour it on bruises or minor wounds and massage it in. The Hebrew word, also translated as Eleos or Mercy, is hesed, which means “steadfast love.”

So yes, although page 69 is the grit in the psyche of these characters, the story itself is far more concerned with mercy, how we connect, love and heal.
Read more about the author and her books at the official Billie Livingston website.

My Book, The Movie: Cease to Blush.

--Marshal Zeringue