In What I Read Last Month, I recap the previous month’s reading and shamelessly copy and paste from my Goodreads reviews. You can read previous months’ What I Read… by clicking here. Disclaimer: Amazon links are affiliate links, but despite wanting to support writers by buying books, I get most of mine from the library.
I finally spent some time catching up on a stack of New Yorkers. I was particularly glad not to have missed the November 27 issue. The short fiction was Will Makin’s The Lost Troop. I enjoyed it almost as much as his Crossing the River No Name, which the New Yorker published in May. As it turns out, Mackin has a book coming out in March. I couldn’t wait until then to read it, so I snagged a copy from NetGalley and look forward to reviewing it soon.
First, I have to finish the three books I have in progress!
A Tangled Mercy by Joy Jordan-Lake
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
A Tangled Mercy paints a charming picture of present-day Charleston and shines a light on some little-known corners of the city’s past. Chapters alternate between 2015 and 1822. There are a few primary POV characters, and most of the 2015 content comes from the perspective of Kate Drayton. However, the POV tends to shift at the author’s convenience. I find this style distracting, but it’s very much in fashion right now. It worked most of the time in A Tangled Mercy, although every POV shift in the 2015 chapters took me out of the story.
I appreciated the treatment of 1822 Charleston’s young women: their horror and inner conflict over slavery, and their relative powerlessness in society. I found it interesting that the young Emily Pinckney didn’t have a mother figure. We don’t see many adult women at all in the historical portions of this novel.
The modern-day storyline ends up a little feel-good for my tastes, but the story kind of earns it with the dark events that get us there. I have conflicting feelings about the writer’s race. On one hand, I don’t want it to matter. On the other, I struggle with the idea of a white author writing a story like this one. Specifically, I’m not sure if it’s our place, as white writers, to seek forgiveness and unification after a tragedy like the Emanuel AME massacre.
Race is (obviously) a constant presence in the 1822 chapters, but often fades to the background in 2015. I didn’t know each character’s race the moment I met them. Given the importance of race to the story as a whole, I imagine this as a reference to — or a hope for — our unity as American people.
The ending felt a little movie-neat, yet still satisfying enough for me. At times, the mystery elements felt heavy-handed. I wonder if the book would’ve benefited from a third timeline, to show Kate’s childhood directly, rather than through telling and flashbacks. We see a lot of Kate’s struggling and wondering and pining, even before we know her well enough to feel invested in her journey.
Overall, this was an enjoyable read with lovable characters and a beautiful setting. I would’ve loved to have seen a book like this written by a person of color, but I also think it’s valuable as a white author’s reckoning with several deep issues, old and new. Not to mention a sometimes-humorous portrayal of a white Bostonian trying to navigate Southern culture. The message in the end — that we all belong to each other — is a good one, and the author manages to pull healing out of tragedy.