"The Crooked Heart of Mercy" by Billie Livingston

Maggie and Ben were madly in love but a terrible tragedy tore them apart.  Now, they are trying to make their way through life separately but neither of them can outrun the pain on their own.

Ben, a limo driver to the wealthy and irresponsible, had a tough upbringing and he finds himself having to care for the man who was never much of a father to him.  His younger brother, Cola, is there to help but is more concerned with the fact that he owes a lot of money to some not very nice people.  And now, Ben has woken up in a hospital with a hole in his head.  He’s the one who put it there, his desperate attempt to escape what is hurting him.  

Maggie stopped working after the tragedy but with the bills mounting up, she must return to her job of caring for seniors.  Her first client, Lucy, is well-meaning but her attempts to help Maggie contact those she has lost are causing too much pain.  Maggie tries to turn to her brother Francis, but he’s dealing with his own troubles, having been the subject of an internet video titled “Drunk Priest Propositions Cops.”  

Maggie and Ben need fixing but they seem to be running from the only thing that will help them heal.  Francis knows that if the two of them are going to find some peace in life, it lies in them reconnecting.

The Crooked Heart of Mercy, by Billie Livingston, is a tender and poignant story of people who are broken and are struggling to put themselves back together.  

This is the first book by Livingston I have read and I picked it up based on the fact that one of her previous books was long listed for the Giller Prize.  I was blown away by the skill of her writing, how beautiful it is.  After reading this book, I realized that there isn’t too much to it in the way of story but her writing - which is honest, real, and emotional - is what makes it a satisfying read.  

There is so much sadness to the book and yet it presents so much hope.  All throughout the book I was thinking of what I would do if I was in Ben and Maggie’s shoes.  I don’t want to speak too much about the tragedy as I think it’s better the reader discovers that themselves, but it is one that hits home and is unimaginable.  Livingston writes this story delicately and respectfully.  

The entire cast of characters was a pleasure to read.  Everyone in this story is dealing with pain and loss in their own ways and all are searching for the same thing but again, in different ways.  Francis brings humour to the book but never at the expense of his own pain or that of the others.  

Beautifully written, thoughtful, and hopeful, this is a quiet and unassuming book that really hits the reader hard emotionally.  A great start to the CanLit scene of 2016.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. The opinions expressed above are my own.


  1. Sounds like a beautiful book! I love the diversity of books you get through!


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