Monday, March 30, 2015

The Unraveling of Mercy Louis: Parallels Better than Expected

The Unraveling of Mercy Louis, by Keija Parssinen
Publisher: Harper
Publication date: March 10, 2015
Category: Fiction
Source: I received a galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for my honest review.

I had a sole reason for requesting The Unraveling of Mercy Louis, by Keija Parssinen when I first heard the title. I'm a huge fan of layered and paralleled stories. Layered stories being stories that are written to tag onto an original, and often popular, story. Paralleled stories being new stories that match pieces of an older story, and therefore, retell it in a different time and place while keeping the original meaning and themes. Taking place in 1999, I knew Parssinen's Mercy Louis story would serve as a parallel story. To what, you ask? Oh that's a dangerous question to ask an English teacher on a roll.

Mercy Louis, although spelled differently, rang immediately of Mercy Lewis from the Salem witch trials (please note the spelling difference between Louis the character and Lewis the actual historical figure). The actual Mercy Lewis appears in this historical event; and therefore, as a character in The Crucible, a most popular drama by Arthur Miller, in which he plays out the proceedings of the 1692-93 Salem witch trials and, in essence, its history repeat of McCarthyism in the 1950s. I had just finished reading The Crucible with three American Lit classes and was about to begin with two Honors English 9 classes. Yes, by the time I picked up this ARC, I had read The Crucible, from beginning to end, FIVE times in the first two months of 2015 and watched the Daniel Day Lewis movie as many times. More than fresh in my mind, I couldn't pass up The Unraveling of Mercy Louis, whose cover art features a single length of taut but fraying rope with numerous hands hanging on. Witch trials indeed, hangings and all, metaphorical or otherwise.

If you'd like a quick summary of The Unraveling of Mercy Louis, Amazon's is sufficient (except for the last line of it. I think it' I'd like to focus here on things that are beyond mere summary but, at the same time, aren't plot spoilers. Also, these parallels are not needed to enjoy the story. (For the sake of discussion and because of Miller's research in the writing of The Crucible, I refer to and use  his play as historically accurate.)

Author Keija Parssinen didn't disappoint as far as parallels are concerned. Right off the bat familiar names came at me. Wealthy Beau Putnam and his daughter Annie parallel the real life Thomas Putnam (and daughter Ruth), whose "seed have peopled the province" (Miller 28). There is even a disturbed Mrs. Putnam who is relatable to mother and wife Ann Putnam of Salem. Another spot on parallel in Parssinen's book is the reverend. Parssinen has Mercy describe the Reverend Parris as a man whose "pride might cause him trouble" (loc 839). The pride of the historical Reverend Parris became a fulcrum on which the Salem witch trials moved into action. Many other names parallel on smaller levels.

Besides character likenesses, religion plays a large role in The Unraveling of Mercy Louis. Like the Puritans of The Crucible, there are two sides to the church represented in Parssinen's book: the ordinary believers and the over the top, aka fanatics. Mercy Louis finds herself stuck between the two sides. She believes in God and the many things she's been taught of him, and yet, intuitively knows that the extreme measures of her grandmother are not necessarily of God. I appreciated this view from Mercy because it shows that people can live a Christian life without claiming perfection or becoming the stereotyped right wing Christian fanatic. 

This is actually what I liked most about Mercy Louis and this book. Mercy Louis struggles with living out her Christianity, even though she does believe in it. She does things she regrets. She's unsure where lines are drawn or why they are drawn where they are. That is so true to life! People are not perfect - we all mess it up, regardless of what we believe. It doesn't mean we can't be forgiven and it doesn't mean we can't try again or start over. And in the end, Mercy Louis is the true example of a Christian in the grace and mercy she extends to everyone around her, including her fanatical grandmother. 

Looking at this topic of truth and fanaticism, it is definitely paralleled in The Crucible (and even other Puritan stories such as The Scarlet Letter). There is a half a town of major hypocrites, but also plenty of truly good people trying to live a decent Christian life in Salem, such as John Proctor, Martha Corey, and Rebecca Nurse. These three die as martyrs, dying for the very faith by which they lived. In the Daniel Day Lewis movie of The Crucible, these three go to the gallows reciting the Lord's Prayer, which contains a line asking for forgiveness and forgiving all those who sin against them. The further parallel between these stories is that of Jesus, who first forgave the very people crucifying him.

I'm not sure if The Unraveling of Mercy Louis was meant to be so realistically Christian or simply parallel a popular piece of literature. All I can think is finally, a secular book that represents Christianity as it can be and should be. Thank you so much Keija Parssinen.


  1. I didn't know that this story paralleled The Crucible, but now that I know, I want to read it even more! I really like that kind of layering in a story too :)

    1. Makes it so much fun to read, waiting for that prior knowledge to connect!

  2. I have to say I love the title. There's something about a title that goes "The XXXX of XXXX XXXX" that sticks out with me. Maybe because two of my books were titles like this - THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE and THE REDEMPTION OF TRUITT AMES. IDK. Also, the cover art is great. Sadly - like you (maybe I should have followed the idea of that TBR challenge, b/c I've decided I WILL not buy another book until my own TBR pile is greatly diminished) but as much as I'd like to read this, I can't get it - yet. :)

    1. I do not blame you in the least. I haven't bought a book yet this year!

  3. Sigh. Now I need to reread this amazing book because as much as I loved it, I completley missed so many of these parallels and feel completely inadequate!

    1. Lol, don't feel too bad! I was the insane person who had read The Crucible five times in two months.