From the Library: revenge, reunion, and unrequited love

All from Atlantic Canada, all involve some kind of travel. In Short Mercy, the characters embark on a road trip of revenge, from Nova Scotia to New Brunswick, leaving behind a trail of petty crime. In The Good Women of Safe Harbour, travel is restricted to Newfoundland, but it’s the hardest kind of travel – into a painful past. The character in The History of Rain travels the furthest–from Europe to Hollywood–after the Great War.

Short Mercy by Colin Sweets Arsenault

Since reading Short Mercy, it has been nominated for two Atlantic Book Awards: the Jim Connors Dartmouth Book Award for Fiction and the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award for Fiction.

In the quiet (fictional) town of Hethering, Nova Scotia, a used book store is robbed. Big news in a small town. Rumours start flying about the legendary outlaw known as WJ Mercy: known for robbing every major bank on Cape Breton Island within eighteen hours in 1978. “He’d never been caught, and so the legend lived on. He’d never killed, and so the legend’s joy remained uncompromising.

The Cast:

Jim Short: Owner of the used book store. Age 41. Divorced. Clad in a “moth-nibbled cable knit sweater and cords.” “Despite having time to spare, he rarely used it to worry where his life was going. Surely, he’d convinced himself, it wasn’t going anywhere at all.”

Kenny: Works at Fantastic Video across the road from the book store. “Hethering’s leading expert in vampire cinema, perennial grower of the blue-ribbon pumpkin, town pool sharp, and known widely as the prime example of a still-young man with a good head on his shoulders going nowhere fast.”

MacKenzie: High school dropout, petty shoplifter, yet “never anyone’s main priority.” Owner of a 1976 Buick Skylark, a car she sincerely believes to have been involved in the great Cape Breton bank heists of 1978. “... the chaos of the backseat was an apt symbol for how a seventeen-year-old with no support system must feel: strewn about, frenzied, and isolated within a sleek, evasive exterior.”

Amber: Greeter and front desk personnel at a bank. “As a self-described positive person, ideal for cheerfully welcoming banking customers, Amber hated them all and the bank along with them. She hated money for making banks a necessity, she hated the colour grey for its very presence, and, after eight years of smiling service, she was beginning to hate herself for the same reason.”

Officer Todd: Police Officer assigned to the case. Believes the legend of WJ Mercy is just a bunch of stories.

MacKenzie offers to help Jim get his money back, and Jim sees very little reason not to take her up on her offer. What follows is a road trip to New Brunswick in the 1976 Skylark, leaving behind them a trail of dine-and-dashes and fill-and-flees, much to the consternation of Jim who leaves his own trail of twenty dollar bills. “He felt nervous around the new and wild version of himself.”

Will they come home with Jim’s stolen money? Or in the back of a police car?

Amidst all the fear he was heading down a dangerous path, more than anything, Jim badly wanted to know what would happen next.

With its small town feel and quirky characters, this book is a treat.

“It’s frightening is all, to think of a world where people don’t prioritize books.”

“It’s always been such a world, my love. You only haven’t noticed because you love them so much.”

The Good Women of Safe Harbour by Bobbi French

It seems strange to describe a book as a feel-good read when the character at the centre of it is dying. And when her life feels like a huge missed opportunity. But that is the category I would put it in.

Frances is a cleaning lady who has lived alone–in St. John’s–almost her entire life. I wouldn’t say she’s been happy to be alone, but she might be inclined to use the word “content.” She enjoys cleaning the homes of others – and during this most recent placement, she has formed a close relationship with Edie, the daughter of the house.

Now she is dying, and she hopes to do this as quietly and privately as she does everything else. Except that Edie won’t have it. When she learns why Frances has resigned from her position, Edie offers her companionship and Frances accepts. Edie gets Frances to make a list of things she wants to do before she dies, and one of the things on her list is to go home to Safe Harbour one more time. Frances hasn’t been there since she left her closest friend behind 49 years before.

It was 1978, and beyond our shores the world was in great flux, but Safe Harbour lay fixed in the tight fist of the Catholic Church. It was as if there were a giant umbilical cord snaking along the ocean floor, tethering the whole island directly to the Vatican and feeding us a steady diet of guilt and shame.

The History of Rain by Stephens Gerard Malone

This is a story of one man’s search for love and belonging: a man who has been horribly disfigured in the the First World War, unrecognizable, even to himself. He goes by Rain. Rehabilitating at Bon Sauveur in France, Rain meets Lily and falls in love. Even more than the scarring of his face, this is the tragedy of his life.

In the flickering gaze of her gentle pity, any dreams he had for life beyond Bon Sauveur wiled and fell apart…

Ten years later, still working miracles in the garden at Bon Sauveur, Lily’s husband finds him and offers him a job at his new estate. “Walling has seven thousand acres! Make it a garden my wife will never want to leave.”

There, Rain finds Lily changed by marriage, money, and unhappiness.

But he continues to love her.

And she knows it.

Over the next decades of his life, he is in and out of Lily’s, even long after he finds himself in Hollywood creating beautiful gardens for the rich and famous.

Although Rain’s story is tragic, he manages to find beauty in his gardens, as well as in other, unexpected places.

… in this world, a dream was an act of defiance.

Where have your library books taken you recently?

15 thoughts on “From the Library: revenge, reunion, and unrequited love

  1. wadholloway says:

    Short Mercy sounds like it’s angling for a movie deal. My own library books take me, if not all round the world, then at least around the Anglosphere – A Jack Reacher in rural Mississippi; an excellent Drusilla Modjeska in 1960s Papua New Guinea (whose discs were too damaged for me to finish reading); Irish crime; and for something different, Dina Nayeri, A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea (2013) set in 1980s Iran.

    • Naomi says:

      So many great settings!

      Do you often get damaged discs? What do you do when that happens?!

      Short Mercy would make a fun movie!

  2. Laila@BigReadingLife says:

    Short Mercy does sound good. I love that quote about books! Sadly it’s true – at least for America, ha ha.

    I’m “traveling” to England with my latest read, Elly Griffith’s The Night Hawks. It’s set in Norfolk. I’d love to go there for real!

    • Naomi says:

      I’d also love to go to the UK someday. My daughter’s going there in a couple of weeks! Her first big trip, her first trip with a friend (instead of us), and her first time on an airplane. I’m just going to pretend it’s not happening until she’s safely home!

  3. annelogan17 says:

    These all sound lovely, especially the last one about making gardens, living one’s changed life quietly, never giving up on the one you love etc. Nice finds!

  4. Marcie McCauley says:

    Just hearing that there’s a bookstore in a book immediately piques my interest. Even though, on the page, when you can’t actually BROWSE, used bookstores really can’t be all that interesting, just a lot of yellowing paper and dust. (I’m kidding: of course I love it.) There’s a used bookstore in the new Ray Robertson book, too, I think? Each of these novels sounds good in its own way and I really enjoyed the way you’ve described them.

    • Naomi says:

      They are all good! I’ve been really lucky in my reading and there have been some really great Atlantic books come out. Let’s hope it continues! (I’m sure it will!)

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