Title: Under the Mercy Trees
Author: Heather Newton
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks; Original edition
Publication Date: January 18, 2011
Paperback: 352 pages
Genre: Literary Fiction
Thirty years ago, Martin Owenby came to New York City with dreams of becoming a writer. Now his existence revolves around cheap Scotch and weekend flings with equally damaged men. When he learns that his older brother, Leon, has gone missing, he must return to the Owenby farm in Solace Fork, North Carolina, to assist in the search. But that means facing a past filled with regrets, the family that never understood him, the girl whose heart he broke, and the best friend who has faithfully kept the home fires burning. As the mystery surrounding Leon’s disappearance deepens, so too does the weight of decades-long unresolved differences and unspoken feelings—forcing Martin to deal with the hardest lessons about home, duty, and love.
Under the Mercy Trees by Heather Newton is a beautiful, yet dark story of the Owenby family, reunited in 1986 when their 65-year-old brother Leon, disappears. The story alternates in narration mainly from Martin Owenby, his sister-in-law Bertie, Ivy Owenby, and Martin’s childhood friend Liza Bernard. Martin is the only one of the ensemble who no longer resides in Solace Fork, North Carolina and does not want to be back home; too many memories are being stirred up, not just for him, but his siblings, spouses, and their children. Newton carefully and through beautiful, almost lyrical prose, weaves together the stories of the lives of the Owenbys and through a series of flashbacks, the reader is able to gain a better perspective on each of the siblings and their strained relationships with one another and their spouses. There are quite a few stories to keep track of and I quickly found myself wanting to know so much more about Ivy and her three children; Shane, Steven, and Trina. While the story is centered on locating Leon, it is much more than a missing person case, rather Under the Mercy Trees is about family and how one can hold on to past prejudices, injustices, and insults for too long, until they lose themselves to the bitterness. Newton crafted a brilliant story around the dysfunctional relationships amongst the middle-aged Owenbys and the lessons that can still be learned and forgiveness that can still be found, no matter how old one is, if one is ready. I became completely absorbed in the lives of the Owenby family and the brilliant narration, vivid imagery, and delicately woven tales of sorrow and joy. I highly recommend Under the Mercy Trees to all readers and think this would make an excellent discussion group pick.
Heather Newton’s short stories have appeared in Crucible, Encore, Wellspring, and elsewhere She lives with her family in Asheville, North Carolina, where she is an attorney and mediator.
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I received a complimentary copy of Under the Mercy Trees by Heather Newton from TLC Book Tours to be a part of this tour and offer my honest review of the book. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of aforementioned book.