Thursday, March 26, 2015

Book Review: "Small Mercies" by Eddie Joyce

Eddie Joyce's Small Mercies is a beautifully written gem of a book, about an Italian-Irish family from Staten Island that has always faced challenges, but none so difficult as coping with the loss of youngest son Bobby, a firefighter who died when he was a first responder on 9/11. Even nearly 10 years later, each member of the family still has their moments of grief.

Gail Amendola, the matriarch, has tried to hold her family together any way she can. She and her husband Michael have weathered their own storms during their marriage, but they've now settled into a peaceful and happy life in their golden years. Oldest son Peter, the smart one, couldn't get out of Staten Island fast enough, and becomes a successful lawyer, yet meets his downfall in an attempt to protect "one of his own," another young lawyer from his hometown. Middle son Franky has always been the troublemaker, and he was always fiercely devoted to Bobby, and his death has sent Franky far down the wrong tracks.

As the family prepares for Bobby Jr.'s birthday party, they are forced to confront something they never expected to happen: Tina, Bobby's widow, whom he dated since they were in high school, has met a man. After nearly 10 years of widowhood, of mourning her husband and leaning on his family to help her raise their children, she's ready to move on with her life, and thinks she's found the person to help her do it. And he's not even from Staten Island.

"He was the absolute best possible version of that man, the absolute best. To try to love some lesser version of him would be the greatest insult to his memory she could imagine. If she wanted to feel love (and she was still young and wanted to love and be loved in return), she needed to meet someone who didn't feel like a cheap imitation of her dead husband."

Small Mercies focuses on a week in the life of the Amendolas, as they try to process their feelings about Tina's new man and what that means to how they continue to deal with Bobby's death. It shifts perspectives among the family members, and moves back and forth between past and present, to provide a clearer picture of the good and bad times in their lives. It's the story of anger and frustration, hurt and heartbreak, love and happiness, grief and loss, and ultimately, hope.

Eddie Joyce is an absolutely fantastic writer and he has created a flawed yet all too human family. But despite having grief as a central theme of this book, it isn't morbid or maudlin; there are certainly some parts which provoke emotions, but by and large, this is simply a powerful story of a family fighting to stay together and come apart. At times it gets a little bogged down in melodrama and predictable plot twists, but for a debut novel, this is a pretty strong and terrific read.

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