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The Unraveling of Mercy Louis: A Novel by…
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The Unraveling of Mercy Louis: A Novel

by Keija Parssinen

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This is the third book I've read about the Le Roy, New York events (the other two being Conversion by Katherine Howe and The Fever by Megan Abbott). Since their plots are so generally similar, I'll compare them for the sake of discussion.

Parssinen's book is more complex than Howe's, but it lacks the physical realness of Abbott's book. Mercy is an interesting heroine, on the surface, but as the book unravels, there remains a lot left to be desired about her. It's difficult to put into words, but something always felt "off" about her character; she was always just submissive/judgmental/religious/rebellious/etc as she needed to be depending on the situation. But instead of it coming across as her being manipulative (which I doubt was the intention), it comes across as mediocre writing. I never really felt like I knew who Mercy was or what she wasn't.

I know we're supposed to hate Mercy's grandmother, especially for the horrible things she did, but the best I could work up was some lukewarm disinterest. The woman did/does horrible things, but it doesn't seem to have an emotional disconnect. I mean, I've read Carrie, I've read other fiction with terrible parents, and Mercy's grandmother just doesn't measure up. She's a cardboard villain -- but then, really, mostly everyone in this book is a cardboard cutout.

Which is sad, because Parssinen shows bits and pieces of brilliance throughout, but it's never long-lived and, more than anything, it highlights the failings in this book. And honestly, the "mysterious illness" does more to hurt the book than help it; it feels almost like it was put in as an afterthought more than anything else. Whereas Howe and Abbott's books make the illness the central figure of their stories, here Parssinen treats it like a C-list character. It comes and goes without much fanfare, but that seems fairly par for the course with the rest of this book.

More than anything, I would have really, really, REALLY LOVED if Parssinen had expanded upon Illa's sexuality more. I actually thought that was the most interesting thing about the story; somewhat suppressed sexuality in a deeply religious time at the turn of the 21st century. Especially since Illa's attraction was towards basically the "pinnacle" of extreme religious conservatism in the town. But, like everything else, it's fact to be noted and essentially tossed aside. Illa never has a real moment of contemplation about her feelings or her sexuality.

But it's just really another wasted part of the story. ( )
  majesdane | Aug 8, 2017 |
I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review itself.

Mercy Louis is a star basketball player on her high school team. She lives with her evangelical, vision-having grandmother, who has taken care of her since her mother left when she was a baby. Mercy has always followed her grandmother's rules, working hard to keep herself pure in body and mind. She has always followed her coach's rules, eating from the meal plan, focusing completely on basketball.

Illa is the manager of her high school girl's basketball team. Those moments with them are the highlight of her day. When she is not at school, she is her mother's caretaker, her mother having been severely injured by an explosion at the refinery many years ago.

But one summer, Mercy and Illa's worlds starts to change. And as girls start to be felled by a mysterious illness. Mercy, Illa, and their town, are forced to make difficult decisions and face their pasts.

Mercy is a powerful, complex character. And none of the characters that surround her, especially the women, are one-dimensional or simple in any way.

There are also many mysteries in this novel, from what has caused the mysterious illness, to the truth behind Mercy's mother leaving, to what exactly happened in the refinery the day it exploded.

Parssinen also has a beautiful writing style, that flows really well. She's very adept at making you feel like you are inside her characters' heads.

I've also always been fascinated by the Salem Witch Trials, which this book plays off of in a wonderfully subtle way.

The ending felt a little too pat. Everything got resolved in a way that I'm not entirely convinced would hold true in real life. And one thing didn't get resolved that I really wanted to know the answer to.

The book also occasionally dragged a little, and took me longer to read than I had expected. It's hard to put my finger on exactly why this held true, but I suspect that it was because Parssinen sometimes uses her beautiful writing style a little too much--scenes and moments occasionally took longer than I felt like they should.

It was really refreshing to read about complex, complicated, three-dimensional female characters. While males, and their relationships with them, were an important component of the story, it was the women who really shined. ( )
  seasonsoflove | Aug 19, 2016 |
In the description of this novel it says it is a chilling book of psychological suspense, because of a discovery made. While this discovery is very sad, what I found the most chilling was the way the girls were treated in this town. Port Sabine, Texas, on the Gulf coast is a oil refinery town trying to recover from an explosion that devastated many years earlier. Mercy and the Lady Rays basketball team are the hope of the town, and Mercy herself is revered fro her basketball talent. But below the surface this is a town of religious fanatics, purity balls and Mercy herself being raised by her very religious grandmother is convinced the world is soon to end. The discovery is a catalyst, a witch hunt and in many ways that is what it turns out to be. Girls under some kind of supposed sinister spell, the devil is roaming and this is the penalty.

A very interesting read, many layers, narrated by Mercy and Illa, a young girl, team manager who takes care of her mother who was severely injured in the explosion. As naive as Mercy is, Illa sees the whole picture and while one hopes that Mercy will overcome her problems, it is Illa who in many ways makes this possible. This book is immensely readable, way more than I thought it would be, there was so much going on beneath the surface, so many secrets being revealed that the pages flew by. The book ends without all the answers I would have liked but I loved getting there and loved that the author trusted the reader enough to figure out what mattered and what didn't. Very good and different read. ( )
  Beamis12 | Sep 15, 2015 |
Fiction
Keija Parssinen
The Unraveling of Mercy Louis
New York: Harper
Hardcover, 978-0-06-231909-8; also available in ebook
320 pages, $25.99
March 10, 2015

Port Sabine is a small derelict refinery town on the Gulf Coast of East Texas, economically depressed and environmentally despoiled, beset by class divisions, small minds, and smaller hearts. Port Sabine’s claims to fame are a refinery explosion and the lone bright spot—the girls’ high-school basketball team and its star, Mercy Louis. Mercy lives on the bayou’s edge with her grandmother, a harsh, unforgiving woman, a member of a “Holy Roller” church who has visions and spouts prophecy of the imminent Rapture. “She’s prophesying again.…Vivid and gut-socking, they come on every few weeks now.... Like turkey vultures aswarm around the dying, she says of the visions. This world is in its death throes.” When the body of an infant is found in a dumpster and people fall ill mysteriously, the weight of suspicion and the judgment of fire-and-brimstone religion land heavily on the girls of Port Sabine.

Keija Parssinen has conjured a smartly plotted, fast-paced Gothic brew of superstition, fear, jealousy, conspiracy, politics, money, sex, love, and misogyny. Mercy is an innocent and tries to be worthy but the bar is too high. “I should be glad to go to heaven, but all I can think about is that December 31 falls in the middle of basketball season.…There’s too much I haven’t had the chance to do, not just winning State, but graduating, going to college, kissing a boy, falling in love.”

Parssinen has a gift for describing the primordial landscape. “[T]he grass sweats dewy beads, the sun bakes the mud banks of the bayou to cracking…cypress trees weep through their branches. Tangles of velvety morning glories grow inky blue and secretive in the thicket at the roadside, bursts of Mexican hat cascading…like spilled paint. On the air, the smell of ripening things.”

She also has an aptitude for the charming image. As Mercy describes it, “I vacuum up her words from where they hang unclaimed in the air; I perch them in the shadowed space where I keep her other confessions, a line of grackles on a bare branch by my heart.” And the astute analogy: “Students buzz down the hallways, atoms of anxiety fusing with one another to form dangerous compounds.”

There is wry humor here, as well. “The truth is like fish. When people ask for it, they usually don’t want it eyes and all.” And this: “In a small town, it’s hard to tell fact from fiction, the apocryphal making the rounds alongside the God’s honest until they’re indistinguishable and both cited like gospel.”

The Unraveling of Mercy Louis is a modern fairy tale that harks back to the Brothers Grimm. It reminds me of a counterintuitive but brilliant blend of Cynthia Bond’s Ruby and Buzz Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights, a distinctive creation. This story ends with beginnings, the pitch-perfect conclusion testing the adage that the truth will set you free. “Unravel” has two definitions: 1) undo and 2) investigate and solve or explain. Parssinen’s novel does both. ( )
  TexasBookLover | Jun 8, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0062319094, Hardcover)

In this intricate novel of psychological suspense, a fatal discovery near the high school ignites a witch-hunt in a Southeast Texas refinery town, unearthing communal and family secrets that threaten the lives of the town’s girls.

In Port Sabine, the air is thick with oil, superstition reigns, and dreams hang on making a winning play. All eyes are on Mercy Louis, the star of the championship girls’ basketball team. Mercy seems destined for greatness, but the road out of town is riddled with obstacles. There is her grandmother, Evelia, a strict evangelical who has visions of an imminent Rapture and sees herself as the keeper of Mercy’s virtue. There are the cryptic letters from Charmaine, the mother who abandoned Mercy at birth. And then there’s Travis, the boy who shakes the foundation of her faith.

At the periphery of Mercy’s world floats team manager Illa Stark, a lonely wallflower whose days are spent caring for a depressed mother crippled in a refinery accident. Like the rest of the town, Illa is spellbound by Mercy’s beauty and talent, but a note discovered in Mercy’s gym locker reveals that her life may not be as perfect as it appears.

The last day of school brings the disturbing discovery, and as summer unfolds and the police investigate, every girl becomes a suspect. When Mercy collapses on the opening night of the season, Evelia prophesies that she is only the first to fall, and soon, other girls are afflicted by the mysterious condition, sending the town into a tailspin, and bringing Illa and Mercy together in an unexpected way.

Evocative and unsettling, The Unraveling of Mercy Louis charts the downfall of one town’s golden girl while exploring the brutality and anxieties of girlhood in America.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:49 -0400)

A superstitious oil town in Texas is sent into a tailspin when the star player of their championship girls' basketball team mysteriously collapses on the season's opening night and is followed by other girls who seem to suffer from the same peculiar condition.… (more)

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