An overdue review of a story of mystery and wonder …
I was born in a bolt of lightning on the banks of Bittersweet Creek … that’s how Mama and me came to have a private moment suspended in the crook of the bank … she took one look at me and said the only name that came to mind. “Mercy,” she whispered to me, I answered her with a wailing cry.”
Mercy Land is an ordinary girl from the unincorporated and mostly unrecognized community of hardy souls who live near Bittersweet Creek. They are, as Mercy puts it, “a knotty gathering of simple people” who live in a place that is “no more than a boot stomp”. But all will change when Mercy heads off to the big town of Bay City.
Author River Jordan weaves a southern gothic story of discovery and mystery worthy of a title like, The Miracle of Mercy Land. Mercy moves to Bay City, Alabama in a time when innocence is about to be shattered by World War II. And there, through her association with Doc, his newspaper, and a strange book known to only the two of them, her innocence will not be allowed to wait another day.
The book is more a mystery than the mysteries it holds. In some unexplained way, it immerses Doc and Mercy in the lives of the people of Bay City who depend on Doc for news of the town and beyond. Each time one of them opens the book, they find themselves pulled along the pathways of other people’s “should have beens” and “maybe wills”.
Before long Mercy realizes, as a good a man as Doc is, he is using the book for a mostly noble yet somewhat selfish purpose. An oddly familiar yet too perfect man shows up in town, called there by Doc, for reasons Mercy can’t understand. Though attracted to the man she is also untrusting and fearful of him. His presence is both what is right about the peaceful town of Bay City and what is wrong.
Characters and setting are River Jordan’s strengths in this story that is labeled magical realism by some. Mercy’s Aunt Ida is her north star, always reminding her of who she is and the stuff of which she’s made. More than once, Ida only has to remind Mercy where and how she was born to calm her fears and strengthen her resolve.
For some, the plot moves a bit too slowly. Like Bittersweet creek, it isn’t in a hurry to get you to the end. There is no doubt some will want more at the end. This isn’t a story where everything is wrapped up in a neat package. There are still questions. There is still … mystery and wonder.
But for me, it is that almost yet not quite explained air of wonder that makes this story unique. The depth of the main characters, the unexplained pasts and futures of others and the lure of the Bittersweet is what makes this story of Mercy Land a true miracle of story-telling.
Check back tomorrow for my analysis of the story telling style and responses of others to The Miracle of Mercy Land. For now, trust me, if you peer into this story it will mesmerize you just as Doc’s book did Mercy.
River Jordan is a southerner with a global perspective. She began her writing career as a playwright and spent over ten years with the Loblolly Theatre group. When not traveling the back roads of America, River lives with her husband Owen Hicks, and their Great Pyrennees lap dog, Titan in Nashville, Tennessee. She thinks about where stories come from – places and people and moods of the heart while rocking on her front porch.