Cover image for Mercy among the children : a novel
Mercy among the children : a novel
Richards, David Adams.
Personal Author:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Arcade Pub., 2001.

Physical Description:
371 pages ; 25 cm
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At the age of twelve, Sidney Henderson, in a moment of anger, pushes his friend Connie Devlin off the roof of a local church. Looking down on Connie's motionless body, Sidney believes he is dead. Let Connie live and I will never harm another soul, Sidney vows. At that moment, Connie stands up and, laughing, walks away. In the years that follow, the brilliant, self-educated, ever-gentle Sidney keeps his promise, even in the face of the hatred and persecution of his insular, rural community, which sees his pacifism as an opportunity to exploit and abuse him. Sidney's son Lyle, however, witnessing his family's suffering with growing resentment and anger, comes to reject both God and his father and assumes an increasingly aggressive stance in defense of his family. When a small boy is killed in a tragic accident and Sidney is blamed, Lyle takes matters into his own, violent hands in an effort to protect the only people he loves: his beautiful and fragile mother, Elly; his gifted sister, Autumn; and his innocent, beatific brother, Percy. In the end, no one but Lyle can determine the legacy his family's tragedy will hold.

Author Notes

David Adams Richards lives in Toronto with his wife and two sons.

Author David Adams Richards was born in Newcastle, New Brunswick, Canada on October 17, 1950. He has received numerous awards for his works including the Canadian Authors Association Award for Evening Show Will Bring Such Peace in 1991, the Canada-Australia Literary Prize in 1992, and the Giller Prize for Mercy Among the Children in 2000. He also won the Governor General's Award in both the fiction and non-fiction categories with Nights below Station Street in 1988 and Lines on the Water in 1998 respectively. He currently lives with his family in Toronto, Canada.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

At the age of 12, Sydney, believing he has accidentally killed a friend, vows to God that he will never harm another human being. Even as an adult, Sydney takes his vow so seriously that he will not defend himself or his family when they are falsely accused of various misdeeds. Forced to live in squalor, he and his family struggle against ridicule and persecution from the residents of the small Canadian town where they live. After a construction accident set up to frame Sydney results in the death of a young boy, Sydney's son Lyle turns to violence. In the end, though, Lyle comes to see that his father was right about his enemies: "They who lift a hand against you do so against themselves." Richards' characters are well drawn, and his intricate plot is compelling. Winner of the 2000 Giller Prize for the best Canadian novel. --Linda Zeilstra

Publisher's Weekly Review

Unrecognized yet in the States, Canadian author Richards should win new readers here with this stark and affecting novel. A working man living in a shack in the "Stumps," an area of New Brunswick dependent on timber and tourism, Sydney Henderson has the unfortunate knack of arousing hostility among his neighbors by the unconscious display of his virtues. As a child, he was beaten by his father, sexually abused by his priest and once nearly killed a playmate. Out of such experiences he has forged a Tolstoyan moral credo, educating himself in literature and art and refusing to meet violence with violence. When Sydney marries Elly Brown, who is judged too beautiful to be matched with the town's poverty-stricken outcast, the scapegoating gets worse. Rebuffed by Elly when he attempts to rape her, a vindictive Stumps resident joins a scheme that eventually causes Sydney to be blamed for crimes he hasn't committed, including manslaughter and child abuse. The novel is narrated by Sydney's son, Lyle, who, in opposition to his father's stoic pacifism, craves revenge. In trying to exact it, he becomes feared, but is inwardly polluted. Worse, he injures those he loves most. The dogged narration takes some time to acquire dramatic tension, but eventually its unflagging rhythm becomes addictive. Though some readers may recoil from the book's frank depiction of pervasive poverty, Richards shows how powerfully the novel can operate as a mode of moral exploration a fact sometimes forgotten in the age of postmodern irony. (Oct.) Forecast: Richards's novel won Canada's 2000 Giller Award (shared with Ondaatje's Anil's Ghost), and critical attention should give it a boost here, too. Arcade is ordering a 35,000-copy first printing and sending Richards on a four-city author tour. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

There are few heroes and little cheer in this bleak novel set on the shores of the Miramichi River, where herbicides used by the local mill owner have leaked into the water, causing serious illness, miscarriages, and birth defects. Amid a cast of miscreants a rich, powerful landowner, self-righteous academics, manipulative bureaucrats, and condescending do-gooders Sydney Henderson stands out as a paragon of virtue among the exploited poor. Severely abused as a child, Sydney retreats into a world of books as solace from the grinding poverty, disregard for his self-education, false accusations of theft and murder, and outrageous government demands for payment of back taxes. But his stoic silence and his refusal to defend himself or exact revenge against his tormenters extend the poverty and ignominy to his long-suffering wife and children. Readers with sufficient fortitude for unrelenting misery and despair will find rewards in a harrowing and powerful novel that has already received Canada's prestigious Giller Prize for fiction. Recommended for all public libraries. Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The small Catholic churches here are all the same, white clapboard drenched with snow or blistering under a northern sun, their interiors smelling of confessionals and pale statues of the Madonna. Our mother, Elly Henderson, took us to them all along our tract of road--thinking that solace would come. In November the lights shone after seven o'clock on the stained-glass windows. The windows show the crucifixion or one of the saints praying. The hills where those saints lived and dropped their blood look soft, distant and blue; the roads wind like purple ribbons toward the Mount of Olives. It is all so different from real nature with its roaring waters over valleys of harsh timber where I tore an inch and a half of skin from my calves. Or Miramichi bogs of cedar and tamarack and the pungent smell of wet moosehide as the wounded moose still bellows in dark wood. I often wanted to enter the world of the stained glass--to find myself walking along the purple road, with the Mount of Olives behind me. I suppose because I wanted to be good, and my mother wanted goodness for me. I wanted too to escape the obligation I had toward my own destiny, my family, my sister and brother who were more real to me than a herd of saints. My father's name was Sydney Henderson. He was born in a shack off Highway 11, a highway only Maritimers could know--a strip of asphalt through stunted trees and wild dead fields against the edge of a cold sky. He did poorly in school but at church became the ward of Father Porier. He was given the job of washing Porier's car and cleaning his house. He was an altar boy who served mass every winter morning at seven. He did this for three years, from the age of eight to eleven. Then one day there was a falling-out, an "incident," and Father Porier's Pontiac never again came down the lane to deliver him home, nor did Father ever again trudge off to the rectory to clean the priest's boots. Nor did he know that his own father would take the priest's side and beat him one Sunday in front of most of the parishioners on the church steps. This became Father's first disobedience, not against anything but the structure of things. I have come to learn, however, that this is not at all a common disobedience. Back then, harsh physical labour seemed the only thing generations of Canadians like my grandfather considered work. So by thirteen my father wore boots and checked jackets, and quit school to work in the woods, in obligation to his father. He would spend days with little to comfort him. He was to need this strength, a strength of character, later on. He had big hands like a pulpcutter, wore thick glasses, and his hair was short, shaved up the side of his head like a zek in some Russian prison camp. He worked crossing back and forth over that bleak highway every day; when the June sky was black with no-see-ums, or all winter when the horse dung froze as it hit the ground. He was allergic to horses, yet at five in the morning had to bring the old yellow mare to the front of the barn--a mare denied oats and better off dead. My grandfather bought a television in 1962, and during the last few years of his life would stare at it all evening, asking Sydney questions about the world far away. The light of the television brought into that dark little house programs like The Honeymooners, The Big Valley, Have Gun Will Travel, and The Untouchables; and glowed beyond the silent window into the yard, a yard filled with desolate chips of wood. My grandfather Roy Henderson would ask Dad why people would act in a movie if they knew they were going to be shot. He would not be completely convinced by my father's explanation about movie scripts and actors, and became more disheartened and dangerous the clearer the explanation was. "But they die--I seen them." "No they don't, Dad." "Ha--lot you know, Syd--lot you know--I seen blood, and blood don't lie, boy--blood don't lie. And if ya think blood lies I'll smash yer mouth, what I'll do." As a teen my father sat in this TV-lightened world; a shack in the heat of July watching flies orbit in the half dark. He hid there because his father tormented him in front of kids his own age. I have learned that because of this torment, Father became a drunk by the age of fifteen. People did not know (and what would it matter if they had known?) that by the time he was fifteen, my father had read and could quote Stendhal and Proust. But he was trapped in a world of his own father's fortune, and our own fortune became indelibly linked to it as well. Excerpted from Mercy among the Children by David Adams Richards All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.