The Unraveling of Mercy Louis by Keija Parssinen
While it may be difficult for you to believe (just employ of bit of suspension of disbelief here, okay?), the fact that author Keija Parssinen will be taking over the blog on September 27 has nothing to do with my thoughts on her recent novel; my friend Sarah, at Sarah's Book Shelves, is the reason I couldn't wait to read it and you can read her thoughts here. Sarah and I enjoy many of the same titles and, after reading her post, I immediately put this one on my TBR list; unfortunately, I'm just getting around to it and I'm so grateful to have been invited to participate in the #30Authors project so that I wouldn't put this one off any longer!
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published by Harper (March 10, 2015)
Source: Library copy
Wow. I have to admit that I am intimately connected with this story; Port Sabine, Texas is a fictitious amalgam of the area that constitutes the Golden Triangle in southeast Texas - the cities of Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange - and it is the area in which I was raised.
It closely borders the state of Louisiana and, as such, lots of Cajun and Creole influences cross over into the area; I'm sure I never realized how unique an area it really is, until after I'd moved away for college and discovered that my hometown environment was a little different from that of most everyone else. As such, I had no trouble immersing myself in this tale; in fact, there were moments when I could substitute the faces of high school friends and their family members into the roles of the characters in this novel.
For me, this novel was an illuminating way to revisit or examine the culture and traditions of this part of the country with a different perspective; I can relate to the subject matter, but I now see it through a different lens. The overbearing religiosity of Mercy's grandmother, the scandal of Annie's "purity ball" and her questionable status as a virgin, the importance of high school sports to the community, and the good 'ol boys - the refineries, politicians and money-pushers - are all elements that create a lot of tension, emotion and contribute to the way of life for the residents of this area.
Author Keija Parssinen nails it and if you've ever wanted a glimpse into this world (and you should, because it's pretty wild) this is your ticket. You could liken this experience to that of the residents of Appalachian coal mining towns: everyone has a family member who works for "the company" and no one wants to jeopardize what "the company" does for the community...well, when they're not killing people in accidents or working them to death. Instead, everyone entertains themselves with small town gossip and drama, especially if you have some good dirt on an influential member of town.
The writing is fantastic, Mercy's journey is captivating and the characters are solidly built; no matter where you're from or how you were raised, there is definitely a story to be enjoyed here. Through Mercy's experiences, readers are reminded that it's not all about the wins and losses but more about the way we play the game; sometimes, what's best for us in the long run may not be what we expected.
Keija Parssinen graduated cum laude from Princeton University, where she studied English literature and received a certificate from the Program for the Study of Women and Gender. She earned her MFA at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was a Truman Capote fellow, a Teaching and Writing fellow, and the student editor of the Iowa Short Fiction contest.
After finishing the program, she won a Michener-Copernicus award for her debut novel, The Ruins of Us, which was published in the US, UK, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, Italy and around the Middle East. The novel was long-listed for the Chautauqua Prize.
Her second novel, The Unraveling of Mercy Louis,was named a Must Read by Ploughshares, Bustle, Bookish, Pop Sugar, and Style Bistro. In 2014, Keija was a Visiting Professor of fiction writing at Louisiana State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Lonely Planet travel-writing anthologies, The Brooklyn Quarterly, Five Chapters, This Land, the New Delta Review, Salon, Off Assignment, Marie Claire and elsewhere.