Publisher's Book Summary:
Women of all ages will appreciate this highly-readable, layered, and fast-paced story about self-discovery at all stages of life. With rich undertones of intrigue and romance, this contemporary novel with a historical twist explores personal blinders and how upbringing and conditioning can shape people to judge others in ways that can lead to unhappy consequences.
Lauren Durough is a college student who finds herself on the road to self-discovery as she is hired by octogenarian Abigail Boyles to transcribe the journals of Mercy Hayworth, a seventeenth-century victim of the Massachusetts witch trials. Almost immediately, Lauren finds herself drawn to this girl who lived and died four centuries ago. The strength of her affinity with Mercy forces Lauren to take a startling new look at her own life, including her relationships with Abigail, her college roommate, and a young man named Raul. But on the way to the truth, will Lauren find herself playing the helpless defendant or the misguided judge? Can she break free from her own perceptions and see who she really is?
It's no surprise that I truly enjoyed this book. Susan Meissner writes such great fiction that offers more to its readers than a few hours of pleasure. It is fiction that has the potential to change the reader's thoughts or views.
Without giving too much away, I will tell you some of my favorite things. There was enough suspense to keep me turning the pages. The characters are sympathetic enough to draw me into their world and gain their trust. Lauren's transcription of Mercy's diary is intriguing and thought-provoking. And Abigail, well, I just want to break through her reserve and give her a big hug. The relationships among the women in the story are what make the story sing.
I was thrilled to actually speak with Susan on the phone during the ACFW-sponsored book extravaganza at the Mall of America a few weeks ago. I sent my mom and sister to the Mall, and my sister called me to tell me all about it. Then suddenly I heard, "Well, here, talk to Susan!" and I found myself on the phone with her! I have to say, it took everything within me not to scream like a rock fan! We chatted for a bit, and it was lovely. She is so nice!
Last week, I had the opportunity to interview Susan via email, and she kindly answered many of my questions; I offer this interview for your enjoyment, edification, and amusement, not necessarily in that order!
The Salem Witch Trials are all about judgment. Have you ever been judged by others, or had presuppositions placed upon you?
Not to the degree that those in Salem were. Not by a long shot. The only way I was able to imagine what it must be like to endure that kind of prejudice was remembering what it was like to play the role of a young woman accused of witchcraft. I was in a play called "To Burn a Witch" when I was 13, and my character started out in a jail cell with other accused girls, innocent all of them. It was scary pretending I was accused of something I would never do and no one believed in my innocence. My character decides to save herself by accusing one of the other girls in the cell of bewitching and tormenting her. My character is then led away to safety and the girl she accused is led away to her execution. My character lived, but at a terrible cost. The girl she accused was executed, but she never gave up on truth. I hated being the girl who walked out on truth.
Which of the women in the story did you feel drawn to the most: Lauren, Mercy, or Abigail?
Of the three, Lauren is the one whose thoughts stayed with me long after I would quit writing for the day. I’ve always wanted to be as benevolent as Mercy (and I know I’m not) and I don’t see myself making the same mistakes as Abigail, but I saw myself often in Lauren as the story revealed how she truly doesn’t want to judge people, but she does. She just does. We all do. We see a homeless man begging on the streets and we make all kinds of assumptions about how he got there and what he would do if we reached out to help him. We see a pregnant teenager or an obese child or a woman wearing diamonds and Jimmy Choos and we assume the teenager has no morals, the child has no restraint and the woman is wealthy and therefore has no worries. We believe these things because the crowd tells us it’s so. It seems to permeate culture, regardless of the generation. Whatever the crowd says, we too easily believe.
I actually didn’t visit Salem. I’ve read enough to know that the Salem that shows up in my book doesn’t exist any more. A friend of mine who drives past Salem on her way to work everyday tells me there is an apartment complex and playground on what was once Gallows Hill, the place where the accused were hanged. She tells me that in the month of October, Salem becomes a haven for all things witches and Wiccan. That just makes no sense to me. The people in Salem who lost their lives in 1692 weren’t witches. They were innocent. That’s the whole point. They died holding onto their faith and refusing to confess an allegiance to the Devil, even though to do so would’ve saved their necks. True, they would’ve been driven out of Salem and lived as outcasts the rest of their lives, but they would’ve been spared. These brave people, mostly women, wouldn’t do it. They wouldn’t turn their back on God. That is amazing to me. And from what I hear, that isn’t celebrated as much as it should be in present-day Salem.
Here's a question from one pastor's wife to another: Do you play the piano?
Well, here’s the thing. I do play the piano. But I routinely have a messy closet and messy drawers and my shoes are never where they should be. Just thought you needed to know that.
(Cool. I play the piano, albeit badly. And in the interest of full disclosure, I'm a total packrat, particularly with books.)
Is the piano question the most annoying question you've ever been asked as a pastor's wife? If not, what was the worst question?
I don’t get annoyed by dumb questions. I am annoyed far more by shoppers who saunter like they’re sleepwalking and leave their carts in the middle of the aisle. They’ve no respect for the rest of the people on the planet. They drive me crazy.
Thanks, Susan! Long-distance hugs sent out to you!
To be eligible to win a copy of The Shape of Mercy you must live in the United States and leave a comment below! Winner will be chosen by random.org's integer generator (just because it's fair).