Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane – Book Review

Posted in: Novels
Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane book review

Not many novelists indulge themselves in producing sensible works, historically arousing, logically developing and dealing with serious issues. However, the ones still taking an interest in such a noble job, nevertheless, are depriving many sections of readers at the cost of appeasing one! Serious readers of English fiction (or fiction in any language) are few (let’s be honest) and their ego is too big (at times) to be satisfied. Dennis Lehane, otherwise a famous novelist and a bestselling writer having more than a dozen bestselling titles to his name, has tried to produce something that takes the readers back into the world of racial tensions and class struggles, almost 50 years back.

Mary Pat (Fennessy), the novel’s protagonist, is a single mother who (does not) may enjoy a tense and rather shivering relationship with her daughter, who is in her teens, Jules. The novel has its seeds in tense rivalries and on the verge of shattering pieces of bonhomie between working-class people from half a century ago in Boston. Mary Pat’s own life is shattered into pieces as she recalls many things from her past, ponders many things from her present and mulls the situations before barging into the tiny holes that open up new worlds she could not imagine (at least with clear vision).

Summary and Premise:

The novelist, Dennis Lehane, transports readers to Boston nearly half a century ago, in 1974, when court-ordered school busing causes uproar across the racially segregated city. Mary Pat Fennessy, a working-class White woman struggling to avoid bill collectors, has a strained relationship with her teenage daughter Jules, who seems to be keeping secrets from her. One night, Jules doesn’t come home, and Mary Pat becomes frantic. The next day at Meadow Lane Manor, where she works as an aide, she learns that the son of Dreamy Williamson, one of her few Black co-workers, died in a mysterious subway incident the previous night. Although Mary Pat doesn’t know Dreamy well, she likes her. Both women have lost children now, but they respond differently, experience varying levels of support from their communities, and eventually discover that the seemingly separate losses of death and disappearance are connected in ways they couldn’t have anticipated.

The novel focuses on Mary Pat, peeling the layers of her character and revealing her as a loving mother and fundamentally decent person who, like many in her Irish neighbourhood, harbours tribal prejudices against those she perceives as intruding on their turf. The novel plays on the grounds of racial and tribal instincts and egos. As tensions escalate during a hot summer, and threats of violence increase, Mary Pat persists in her quest to find out what happened to Jules and why, even if the truth takes her to uncomfortable places. Along the way, she uncovers much about her daughter, the neighbourhood, and the criminal enterprise whose power and authority have gone unchecked for too long. Ultimately, she risks everything to discover the truth.

The Verdict:

The language and style of narration, the overall narrative, and the novel, in a nutshell, offer many things for those who are into reading novels with purpose. Small Mercies evokes historical events and adds spicy imagination to the tensions of yesterday. Dennis Lehane may be said to have succeeded in offering an engaging plot for a set of readers (taking interest in the past). However, the slow pace of the narrative might compel modern readers of casual and racy fiction away from this work. Teenagers, youths and too-busy readers might look in other directions. Since the work is focused on an individual character, the plot takes a little time (more than enough) to unfold itself entirely in front of the readers. And we all know the clock is ticking… The novel has values and historical richness. However, it may lack (when the time comes) in making a count of the same. Nonetheless, the author has appealed to his reader base and regular audience just enough to get this novel on the list of New York Times Bestselling novels.

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Review by Ashish for ReadByCritics

Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane – Book Review
  • ReadByCritics Rating


Appealing to the serious set of readers, the novel lacks pace but has many things to lure the readers into the tiny holes of existential and otherwise worlds holding mirrors unto oneself… Interesting but slow!

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1 Comment. Leave new

  • Very aptly written review… liked it. Lehane’s books are often amazing. Yes, this one was a little slower than other novels.


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