The Crooked Heart of Mercy

Publisher: Random House Canada
The Crooked Heart of Mercy is a brave, funny and heartbreaking novel about faith and family, love and forgiveness, and how people survive unimaginable loss. It features an indelible trio of characters who could only come from the imagination of Billie Livingston. There's Ben, whose world we enter on the first page: he's a limo driver who, after he loses his son, finds himself locked up in a psych ward with a hole in his head he can't explain. His wife, Maggie, the other narrator of the story, is locked up in her own grief, unable to reach out to her husband. Then there is Maggie's brother, Francis, an unlikely priest with a drinking problem and only occasional interest in celibacy, whose latest fall from the wagon was caught on video and has gone viral as Drunk Priest Propositions Cop.
     How they come together to heal each other's many wounds is the magic of this novel, as is its intensity, its wit, its deep sense of the absurd, and the surprising grace at its core.

READING GUIDE

1. "How do you fill a hole? If you take from the whole to fill a hole, is anything made whole?” How do Ben’s words reflect the themes of trauma and recovery in the novel?

2. Both Ben and Maggie feel extreme guilt over Frankie’s death. How do each of them deal with this guilt in their everyday...

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PRAISE FOR

“Steeped in regret, and filled with longing, The Crooked Heart of Mercy is the poignant story of broken people trying desperately to be whole, lost somewhere between a prayer and a wish. Raw and heartfelt. Remarkable.” —Will Ferguson, Scotiabank Giller Prize–winning author of 419

“A stirring meditation on faith, grief and the eternal human project of forgiving ourselves our sins. It grips the reader’s crooked heart and doesn’t let go.” —Lynn Coady, Scotiabank Giller Prize–winning author of Hellgoing

“An intricate meditation on grief and forgiveness. . . . How individuals fail and succeed in their efforts to be caring remains Livingston’s enduring theme.” —The Georgia Straight
 
“A sombre yet striking story. . . . Francis is a wonderfully complex character. . . . The Crooked Heart of Mercy’s dark subject matter allows Livingston to explore, in characteristically intelligent prose, weighty ideas, not the least of which is the role of faith, in its many forms, in healing and forgiveness.” —Quill & Quire
 
“The key to Billie Livingston’s fiction is its potent emotional core. She always makes sure you can empathize with her characters, who are often troubled souls searching for personal connection or, in the case of her newest book, reconnection. . . . Livingston brings these emotional crises to life, never resorting to clichés. . . .[D]iving into the author’s emotional vortex is a powerful experience.” —NOW (Toronto)
 
“[A] stellar fourth novel. . . . Tender, quirky, and sporadically quite comic, her answer is fruitful as well as a delight to follow. Emotional but not sentimental and sharp without being cynical, the story maintains an impressive balance. . . . With Lucy, Livingstone excels at portraying a wilful and eccentric figure who succeeds despite wildly wrong-headed instincts. . . . As though aware of the hazards of that familiar narrative, her treatment of Ben and his progress is intriguing but fresh; the man’s return to normalcy a possibility that’s not guaranteed. . . . As a theme, overcoming adversity is as old as literature. With her affecting take on it, Livingston reminds us why that theme has such a long history and how it remains important to explore its permutations and outcomes. She acknowledges the human capacity to make a fatal mistake and the price often paid for it. At the same time, her novel notes, our resilience is such that we tend to overcome such a momentous event and emerge, changed and scarred, but able to carry on.” —The Vancouver Sun  
 
“Thankfully, Livingston avoids cliché and caricature, and is able to investigate the necessity of belief in all its forms without descending into the didactic. She has a real knack for voice, bouncing back and forth between Maggie’s first-person grief and Ben’s mental-illness monologues gracefully and believably . . . . [H]er light-handed investigation of religion and its place in our lives—especially in crisis—is wholly refreshing and open-hearted. Though her characters are flawed and often fumbling, she never once imposes judgment on the ways they choose to cope and heal, and in turn encourages us to follow suit. It would be easy to use words like ‘heartwarming’ and ‘uplifting’ to describe what Livingston has accomplished here with her vivid ensemble cast, but there are far more complex things happening on the page beyond just a simple feel-good narrative. The Crooked Heart of Mercy truly highlights how life often gets in the way of getting better, but we bravely take from it what we can to move forward—and maybe make a joke or two in the process.” —Stacey May Fowles, The Globe and Mail
 
“Livingston details their respective past wounds in very readable, unfancy prose, bringing to life some dysfunctional family dynamics and working class challenges with plain-spoken grace. The dialogue, especially during heated confrontations between husband and wife or siblings, is gritty and grounded, and the fraught silences between broken men is powerfully evoked.” —Toronto Star