About the book: (from the publisher) After the sudden death of her troubled mother, struggling Harvard grad student Kate Drayton walks out on her lecture—and her entire New England life. Haunted by unanswered questions and her own uncertain future, she flees to Charleston, South Carolina, the place where her parents met, convinced it holds the key to understanding her fractured family and saving her career in academia. Kate is determined to unearth groundbreaking information on a failed 1822 slave revolt—the subject of her mother’s own research.
Nearly two centuries earlier, Tom Russell, a gifted blacksmith and slave, grappled with a terrible choice: arm the uprising spearheaded by members of the fiercely independent African Methodist Episcopal Church or keep his own neck out of the noose and protect the woman he loves.
Kate’s attempts to discover what drove her mother’s dangerous obsession with Charleston’s tumultuous history are derailed by a horrific massacre in the very same landmark church. In the unimaginable aftermath, Kate discovers a family she never knew existed as the city unites with a powerful message of hope and forgiveness for the world.
About the author: Joy Jordan-Lake has written more than a half-dozen books, including the novel, Blue Hole Back Home, which won the Christy Award in 2009 for Best First Novel. The book, which explores racial violence and reconciliation in the post-Civil Rights South, went on to be chosen as the Common Book at several colleges, as well as being a frequent book club pick. Jordan-Lake holds a PhD in English, is a former chaplain at Harvard, and has taught literature and writing at several universities. Her scholarly work Whitewashing Uncle Tom’s Cabin draws on the narratives, journal, and letters of enslaved and slave-holding antebellum women, research that led her to the story behind A Tangled Mercy. Living outside of Nashville, she and her husband have three children.
Genre: Fiction/Historical/ContemporaryThe @SheReadsBookCLB final selection: A TANGLED MERCY by Joy Jordan-Lake Click To Tweet
My take: The first thing to strike me about Joy Jordan-Lake’s A Tangled Mercy was the contrast between the pulsing energy of Tom’s historical narrative versus the languid introspection of Kate’s contemporary one. In slip-time novels, my interest is usually more captured by the contemporary narrative, but in this case, I found the historical thread equally gripping. (Note: The historical perspective is offered from a couple of point-of-view characters, but Tom’s is dominant.) I also loved the vibrant voice of young Gabe (can I just pluck him from the pages and keep him, please?), and the engaging mix of characters with a strong line of redemption running through. Reminiscent of Karen White and Lisa Wingate’s recent novels, it also reminded me strongly of my favorite of Kim Edwards’s, The Lake of Dreams.
The heart of this novel centers around the issues of racial discrimination and reconciliation. Which makes it hard, I think, to not sense a political undercurrent. Which may or may not land well on all readers. That said, hats off to Jordan-Lake for using her talents to engage in the conversation — and to offer hope for healing.
One last thing: I don’t think the cover does the story justice. I’d never have picked this one up based on the cover art alone. It doesn’t nearly convey the lyrical, layered prose and the timely, compassionate story within.
A Tangled Mercy is the She Reads Book Club selection of the month.
Thanks to She Reads and Lake Union Publishing for providing me this book free of charge. All opinions are mine.
Buy it here.
After words: What slip-time novel have you enjoyed lately?