Friday, July 24, 2015

"Small Mercies" is a Small Miracle

Once again I must thank my friend and deep reader, Pat Abosch, for the recommendation of this outstanding novel by debut writer Eddie Joyce. I realized that I was in for a very special reading experience when I saw that one of my all-time favorite authors, Richard Russo, had written a blurb for the cover. I gather that Russo was a mentor for Joyce. It shows.

What Russo did for the failing mill town of Empire Falls Joyce does for a blue- collar, Irish-Italian enclave in Staten Island, bringing it to vibrant life. His characterizations of both the people and the place took me back to the small mill town of Lee, Massachusetts, where I lived for seventeen years. Joyce captures the cadence of the discussions, the family pow-wows around the kitchen table, the vague resentments between those who stayed in the hood and those who left for the bright lights of the city.

"Small Mercies" is an outstanding example of what I call the post 9/11 genre represented so powerfully by such authors as Don de Lillo ("Falling Man"), Jonathan Safran Foer ("Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"), or Amy Waldman ("The Submission").

These books are not about the terrorist attacks, per se, but rather, about the ramifications, sometimes on just one person, or on a small group of people. They are about the ripple effects of a single act that repeat and repeat over the years and about the "small mercies" that one must be grateful for in the face of tremendous loss.

When "Small Mercies" opens, it's been ten years since Bobby Amendola, NYFD, disappeared under the rubble of the twin towers. Still, not a day goes by that his mother Gail doesn't step into his childhood room and wonder why. Bobby's widow, Tina, is raising her two kids the best she can with the emotional support of the entire Amendola family and, as is often the case in small towns like this, the entire community. But after years of believing that there wasn't a man alive who could take Bobby's place, Tina has finally met a guy, a widower who understands the aching hole in her heart, who just might be the one.

How will this news affect Tina's relationship with Gail, with Bobby's brothers, with his dad, Michael? Bobby Jr.'s birthday is coming up and there will be the usual over-the-top fanfare at Gail and Michael's house. Tina would like to introduce Wade to the gang but is plagued with trepidation. Wade is a New Yorker, a successful hedge-fund manager, not your typical Staten Island, jeans and hoodie clad, sports-gambling, cop, construction worker, or firefighter content to hang out at the bar on Friday nights downing shots and beers. Can Tina bridge these two worlds?

With spot on, perfect prose, Eddie Joyce uses flashbacks to get inside the heads of each member of the Amendola family. And as they allow us to see their strengths, their foibles, their sins, and their moments of pure grace, readers can't help but recognize pieces of themselves. Eddie Joyce, by tapping into the ferocious sense of love and loyalty within families and small communities has performed a minor miracle. "Small Mercies" will likely be among my top ten best reads of 2015.


Jessica said...

Pat suggested I read this as well. Finally got to it and just finished it in one sitting. Absolutely loved it!

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