The Shape of MercyThe Shape of Mercy
Susan Meissner
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Lauren Durough is a West Coast English major at the proverbial age of discovery. Sheltered in her childhood years by family wealth, she is just beginning to grasp how people judge others by what they want to believe about them; particularly, how the poor mistakenly view the wealthy and vice-versa. When she opts out of her family's monthly financial support, she takes on a job as a literary assistant to Abigail Boyles, an eighty year-old reclusive, retired librarian. Abigail tasks Lauren with transcribing the diary of Abigail's ancestral cousin, Mercy Hayworth--a woman hanged for witchcraft in seventeenth century Salem, Massachusetts. The lives of Abigail and Lauren, two very different women, converge as they jointly piece together the life and death of Mercy Hayworth. Lauren finds herself drawn to this girl who lived four hundred years earlier, who also struggled against undeserved cultural stigmatization, but lost. But the more she learns about Mercy, the more Lauren realizes this project is as much about Abigail as it is her ancestor. As secrets unfold, the extent to which the lives of these three women are connected comes to light, and both Lauren and Abigail find their lives and the very way they view the world irrevocably changed


 The Shape of Mercy Discussion Questions: Susan Meissner


1. Lauren spends the better part of the novel steadily convincing herself she is nothing like the typical Durough male heir. Does she have this right?


2. Near the end of the book Clarissa, Lauren’s roommate, accuses Lauren of thinking she is better than everyone else. Why does Clarissa say that? Is it true?



3. The Shape of Mercy is about three distinct women: Mercy, Abigail and Lauren. What do these three women have in common? What separates them?



4. Why was it so important to Abigail that Mercy’s diary be given to someone like Lauren, rather than be bequeathed to a museum? What difference did it make?



5. The diary’s pages reveal a time and place of tragic historical significance. What emotions did reading the diary evoke within you? If faced with the same dilemma, confess or hang, which would you have chosen?



6. Mercy writes about a bird seeking shelter in her barn during the first few weeks of January 1692. What kind of symbolism does the bird offer?



7. Lauren describes Abigail’s library as being suffocating, overly decorated and bursting with books – a room whose arrangement is in sharp contrast to the rest of the house. Why do you suppose this room was like that? Does Lauren’s opinion of the library stay the same throughout the story?



8. When Lauren first meets Raul she assumes he is a member of the catering staff. Later she assumes he is a rich, upwardly mobile, pre-med student who cavalierly rolls up the sleeves of $200 Armani shirts. What assumptions did you make about Raul?



9. Esperanza is convinced Graham wants to have Abigail declared unfit to manage her affairs. Why does she think that? Do you agree?


10. Were you satisfied with Tom Kimura’s response to Lauren’s visit and revelations about Abigail? Why or why not?



11. How might Abigail’s life had been different if she had married Tom Kimura? What might have happened to the diary then?



12. If Lauren hadn’t met Abigail and never read the diary, would her life be different?



13. When Raul takes Lauren up in the plane, she makes the comment, “I’m so small!” Raul tells her, “It’s not always about you.” What does he mean?


14. What do you think Lauren does after she graduates from college? What kind of future do you project for her career-wise?



15. John Peter tells Mercy shortly before her arrest that it “is easier to believe ill of someone than good.” Is he right?



16. What do you think of Mercy’s final act of compassion? Did she do the right thing?


17. The Shape of Mercy is a story about choices, stigma, and pre-conceived notions. Did you learn anything new about yourself in regard to these themes?




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