The Unraveling of Mercy Louis: Book Review and Giveaway

Fear is among the most potent of human emotions, capable of manipulating not only our thoughts but our bodies. A rush of adrenaline causes sweat on the brow. Trembling limbs. A quiver in the voice. In extreme cases, an internal crisis can lead to unexplained physical symptoms.

This condition is known as Conversion Disorder.

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Keija Parssinen’s The Unraveling of Mercy Louis explores this phenomenon, tracing the physical deterioration of a group of teenage girls spurred on by psychological stressors in their small town.

Set in Southeast Texas during the final six months of the 20th century, Parssinen’s novel opens with a grim discovery in the dumpster outside a local market. Already on edge after a refinery disaster left their town blighted, the people of Port Sabine leap into action pledging to locate and prosecute the party responsible for this crime.

What follows is a veritable witch hunt where girls are found guilty simply by virtue of their being female. Otherwise promising young women are goaded into purity ceremonies, shamed publicly when evidence of their sexuality is uncovered.

No mercy.

In Parssinen’s title, I recognized the allusion to the Salem witch trials and Arthur Miller’s play,   The Crucible. Other comparisons followed, not only in the characters (Annie Putnam; Marilee Warren; Abby Williams; Pastor Parris; Lucille Cloud, like Tituba, an outcast who serves as scapegoat) but also in the novel’s dark themes:

Sexual repression. Jealousy and competition. Religious fanaticism. Greed. Corruption.

The summer is a character itself; hot and reckless. Fertile. Fearsome.

Almost everyone in Port Sabine is terrified by their desires.

– Evelia Boudreaux, Mercy’s grandmother, longs for her reunion with God on the eve of Y2K.

– Illa Stark longs for connection, both with Mercy and her own maimed mother.

– Mercy Louis, the lonely basketball prodigy, longs for love. Spiritual. Physical. Maternal.

When her soul’s salvation is pitted against the fitful urges of her body, her unraveling is, perhaps, inevitable.

Parssinen’s language is rich with imagery, by turns elegant and colloquial; timeless yet contemporary. Mercy’s story remains fraught with urgency, revealing both the ugliness and the beauty of which the modern world is capable.

I found both pessimism here and hope. We are, none of us, immune to the conflicts given life in Keija Parssinen’s book.

Its official release is March 10th, but you can preorder  a copy here and purchase Keija’s first novel, The Ruins of Us, here.

Leave a comment below sharing the title of a book you are reading and one of you will be picked to receive a free copy of The Unraveling of Mercy Louis.

For more opportunities to win, check out Greta’s review at gfunkified and follow the blog tour that continues tomorrow at Rita Aren’s Surrender Dorothy.

In earth science, we learned that the sky isn’t actually blue, its color a trick of light scattering as it passes through the atmosphere. Sometimes science ruins things. I try to forget what I learn, but it’s impossible. Once a mystery is gone, it’s gone.”

*I received an advance copy of The Unraveling of Mercy Louis in exchange for an honest review. The opinions here are mine alone.

21 thoughts on “The Unraveling of Mercy Louis: Book Review and Giveaway

  1. Bailey

    I love to read fiction novels. However, during my commute to work I like to listen to autobiographical humor like David Sedaris. I am currently reading The Wolves of the Calla, Stephen King’s 5th installment in the Dark Tower series.

  2. julie


    I love Stephen King and could read (or listen to) David Sedaris all day long.
    Last year I had the pleasure of attending one of his shows and he elicited the whole spectrum of emotions that night!

  3. Juile, what a beautiful, intelligent review! Love that you mention The Crucible – YES!
    Thank you again for spreading the word about Mercy Louis! xoxo

  4. This review is just fantastic!! The new quote you picked is another great one, of course! I truly love how you brought so many of the aspects of the book together in one succinct and thought provoking review (so glad I went first to avoid the pressure of following posts like this) 🙂

  5. Wow, that novel sounds so intriguing! Right now I’m reading – and absolutely loving – “All My Puny Sorrows” by Miriam Toews, it’s about two sisters, one who is suicidal and the other who is trying to save her.

  6. Christy

    I haven’t started it yet, but Ringside 1925 is waiting for me on my Kindle. It’s about the Scopes trial, so I’m intrigued to see another novel related to something else I teach!

  7. I really try to make a habit or reading anything the Parssinen girls write . . . Ruins of Us was great. I’ll be reading this one as well.

    Right now, though, I’m going into complete “non-thought” mode, working through the latest book of the Dresden Files. After that, I think I’m going to re-read To Kill a Mockingbird, though . . . just in preparation.

  8. Di

    Wow, as someone who taught The Crucible for years to my high school juniors, this novel seems like a must read for me. I will definitely read this, once the school year is over! Thanks for a beautiful review.

  9. Laurel

    Fascinating! I was mesmerized in Salem – I bet I’d like this novel!

  10. NannyK

    I cannot WAIT to read this book. “The summer is a character itself; hot and reckless. Fertile. Fearsome”. Great review, Julie! I’m all in….for dark themes, complex characters and beautiful, tragic unraveling. John and I had the exact same plan. I am re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird, “in preparation” 🙂

    • julie

      I think everyone is reading To Kill a Mockingbird again :-).

  11. Nicely done! Love the reference to “The Crucible”.

  12. This sounds like a very complex yet intriguing book! Right now, I’m reading The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. So far, so good!

  13. Fantastic review. It reminds me of a book I couldn’t put down by Stephen Dobyns called Church of the Dead Girls.

    Sadly, today I am reading something much less exhilarating (but a definite sleep and kid-aid) called Simplicity Parentinf. Sigh. It’s come to that.

  14. I’m reading Still Alice. Love it.

  15. KTP

    I’m reading several books at a time. Living With Intensity. The Fingersmith. Secrets of the Lost Caves. Soul Sessions. It makes for slow going!

  16. NannyK

    Now I feel like I need to re-read The Crucible, too!!

  17. **The summer is a character itself; hot and reckless. Fertile. Fearsome.**

    I Like!!! xx

  18. Ha! I am supposed to be reading To Kill A Mockingbird (it’s on my nightstand), but I’ve gotten sidetracked. I’m not even reading it again – I switched schools in 9th grade from a school who was reading it 2nd semester to a school who read it first semester. Oh well, I’ll get to it. Eventually.
    But now I am reading (and loving) Wild (upon the recommendation of some very good friends) 🙂 and listening to Rob Lowe’s Love Life in the car on my commute. Of course my commute is less than 15 minutes & my car CD player does not work in the morning when it is cold, so it may take me a while to get through it!

  19. I just about done with Shotgun Lovesongs by Nikolas Butler. It’s really good!

    And great review, Julie!

  20. One day I hope to write a book worthy of a review like this from you!

    I’m reading Liar’s Bench on my own, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with the kids 🙂

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