Mercy House, a women’s shelter in Brooklyn, is run by three aging nuns. It opens its doors to all manner of woman, regardless of religion, race, or bias. It gives succor to women who have been abused, either mentally or emotionally by the very people who are supposed to love them…
Sister Evelyn – our protagonist, is sixty-nine years old. A nun for fifty years, she was essentially abandoned to the convent at a tender age by her Irish-American family. When still a novice, Evelyn suffered repeated rape by one of the priests she had pledged to ‘obey’. She was a nursing nun for years and she has seen many changes over the years. She went from wearing a full ‘habit’ to now wearing jeans, sweatshirts, and ball caps. Now, many decades later, she is feisty, resourceful, crusty, and resiliently strong for the women who seek out her aid. She approaches life with courage and a sarcastic wit.
Sister Maria – practices Reiki with the residents of Mercy House. She has a sweet tooth, likes to play online poker, and is a fan of paperback romances. She loves to bake and it is her job to counsel the residents and do some of the housework.
Sister Josephine – tall and thin with perfect posture, she wears long skirts and loose cardigans. Sister Josephine is an academic and philosopher who was instrumental in the setting up of Mercy House. She works as a fund-raiser and applies for grants to support Mercy House.
The three nuns are partners, friends, and ‘sisters’ in the wider meaning of the word.
Sister Evelyn is a character that I will remember for some time. Her strength, her courage, her stamina, and even her weaknesses all came together to make her memorable.
The part gritty, part gentrified neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, New York was described vividly. It’s multicultural inhabitants represent many walks of life, many races, and many social classes.
Under the guise of an engrossing fictional story, I learned about the ‘nun-quisition‘ a real series of events that took place not so long ago. I learned more about the corrupt practices of some members of the Catholic Church.
Though “Mercy House” cannot be pigeon-holed into any specific genre, I found it to be a page-turner in its own right. It was the vibrancy of the characters and the absorbing story that retained my avid interest throughout. It showcased how we all write our own narrative of events – though that narrative might differ greatly from the memory/viewpoint of others directly involved. A novel with themes of hope and the uselessness of holding grudges.
Highly recommended to readers who admire strong characters in a skillfully written story, whatever their religion. A laudable novel that deserves a wide readership.
This review was written voluntarily and my rating was in no way influenced by the fact that I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from William Morrow Paperbacks /HarperCollins via Edelweiss.
ISBN: 9780062914804 384 pages
Alena Dillon is the author of Mercy House, from William Morrow of HarperCollins, and the humor collection I Thought We Agreed to Pee in the Ocean. Alena’s work has appeared in publications including Slice Magazine, The Rumpus, The Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review, Still Point Arts Quarterly, and The Smart Set. She teaches creative writing at Endicott College and St. Joseph’s College and lives on the beautiful north shore of Boston with her husband, baby son, and little black pup named Penny.
Visit Alena Dillon’s website: https://www.alenadillon.com/
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