Tuesday, June 17, 2014
'Sweet Mercy' by Ann Tatlock
When Eve Marryat’s father is laid off from the Ford Motor Company in 1931, he is forced to support his family by leaving St. Paul, Minnesota, and moving back to his Ohio roots. Eve’s uncle Cyrus has invited the family to live and work at his Marryat Island Ballroom and Lodge.
St. Paul seemed like a haven for gangsters, and Eve had grown fearful of living there. At seventeen, she considers her family to be “good people.” They aren’t lawbreakers and criminals like so many people in her old neighborhood. Thrilled to be moving to a “safe haven,” Eve is blissfully unaware that her uncle’s lodge is a transfer station for illegal liquor smuggled from Canada.
Eve settles in to work and makes new friends, including an enigmatic but affecting young man. But when the reality of her situation finally becomes clear, Eve is faced with a dilemma. How can she ignore what is happening right under their very noses? Yet can she risk everything by condemning the man whose love and generosity is keeping her and her family from ruin?
Eve Marryat is happy and relieved to be leaving a rough neighbourhood with her parents, to live at her uncle's lodge and guest house. She is idealistic bordering on judgmental. No, she's crossed that border without being aware. She sees life as a no-brainer. Good people do good things, bad people do bad things. If she tends to look down her nose at certain people, it's because their wrong decisions stand out so clearly to her.
Her lofty attitude makes this story even more intriguing, when she finds out about the bootlegging business being run practically under her nose. It's hard for her to admit that the motives of some people for choosing to be involved are not only easy to understand but pretty hard to refuse. Could doing the wrong thing actually seem the more noble, no-brainer choice in some circumstances? Most shocking of all to Eve is the question of whether she herself could be convinced to turn a blind eye.
The time period is a perfect choice for examining moral dilemmas. The Great Depression was driving honest people to be desperate, while at the same time, many longed for a simple drink to drown their problems but the Prohibition prevented them. A 'silly' law brings out the best and worst in people.
I like the ups and downs in Eve's conscience, as she yo-yos between self-righteousness and overwhelming guilt. Although she hates to think her moral standards are failing her, the story makes us wonder whether she is, in fact, becoming a kinder and stronger person than she used to be when she thought she was a paragon. The town is aptly named Mercy, and the implicit question is whether Eve is behaving closer to God's heart when she lets mercy guide her instead of judgment.
I loved Eve's relationship with her parents, and the love and trust she knew she'd receive from them. Her father, Drew Marryat, was dyslexic, although that term wasn't used back then, and he felt over-shadowed by his two outwardly successful older brothers. He was a sympathetic character and I was surprised when it was revealed why the relationship wasn't as rosy in Eve's mind as it came across on paper. It gets us wondering whether our hang-ups may be based on reality or in our own heads.
What I liked least was the unsatisfactory wrap-up for my favourite character. Without revealing plot spoilers by naming him, he was the one person whose story I found even more compelling than Eve's. Having my heart touched so deeply by this character, I hated being left to wonder about his future from the vague hints we were given. It made me groan, because I wanted so much more for him, as his part of the story was pivotal to the plot.
However, it was a quick and compelling read which made me think.
Sweet Mercy available from Amazon