The Shape of Mercy: A Novel

by Susan Meissner

Paperback, 2008



Call number



WaterBrook (2008), 320 pages

Original publication date



Fiction. Literature. Historical Fiction. Lauren, a college student, helps Abigail Boyles, an 80-year-old recluse, transcribe the diary of Abigail's ancestral cousin, Mercy Hayworth�who was hanged for witchcraft. As secrets unfold, the extent to which the lives of these three women are connected comes to light, and both Lauren and Abigail find the very way they view the world irrevocably changed.


Audie Award (Finalist — 2010)
Christian Book Award (Winner — Fiction — 2009)
Publishers Weekly's Best Books of the Year (Religious Fiction — 2008)


Original language


Physical description

320 p.; 7.92 inches


1400074568 / 9781400074563

User reviews

LibraryThing member Sararush
The Shape of Mercy’s, Lauren, is the quiet introvert as in she doesn’t have any friends that she isn’t related to. She is forever trying to make up for the fact that she isn’t the son her father wanted. So she does everything her family does not expect in an attempt to forge her own path in
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life. A literature major in college, Lauren is near obsessed with proving that she isn’t a rich snob, so she takes an odd job—transcribing a diary of an accused Salem witch. While earning her spending money she discovers kindred spirits in her employer, Abigail, a wealthy recluse and the diary’s doomed author, Mercy. Learning from the past while on the cusp of her future, Lauren questions her destiny.

Susan Meissner recently spoke about this book, and she relayed that this book is about the individual power everyone has to effect their own and other’s circumstances. When reading the book, the reader understands that it’s never too late to take an action towards improving our world. This message may be why the book is classified as Christian Fiction, not detracting from that message, but this novel could have just as easily been branded Women’s or Historical Fiction. The story transcends genre and becomes simply a great read as good a recommendation to your Grandmother as it is to pre-teens.

The book is well shaped with endearing characters that are near impossible to resist. Mercy’s fate, Abagail’s life, and Lauren’s preconceptions are all revealed slowly which builds the novel’s suspense layer by layer. This novel is at times syrupy sweet and sentimental but always satisfying. If you loved, THE HERETIC’S DAUGHTER by Kathleen Kent or DELIVERANCE DANE by Katherine Howe, you’re sure to enjoy Meissner’s Salem interpretation.
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LibraryThing member mrsjason
Lauren is a rich girl who has chosen to be on her own, away from her wealthy family. She is a college student trying to fend for herself. She manages to get a job transcribing the diary of an ancestor of a former librarian. Lauren begins to get lost in the world of Mercy, a young woman living
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during the Salem Witch Trials. She finds herself being drawn into a tale that she knows will end tragically but she finds she cannot stop herself from reading. As she continues with her work, Lauren begins to see how a girl who lived centuries ago shares the same feelings and angst that she herself feels today.

Wow when I finished this book, I nearly broke down and cried. This book was so moving and heartbreaking. Just like Lauren, it was difficult for me to keep reading Mercy's entries in the diary. Yet I too kept being drawn towards it. Even though I am one who tends to want to know the ending first, this time I didn't want the story to continue. I wanted Mercy to be able to enjoy her life as long as she could. I didn't want to read about the wrongful accusations and the hardships she was forced to suffer. And just like Lauren, I was not eager to read about her death. The Salem Witch Trials was a time in our nation's history that is very dark and one period that would like to be forgotten. I think what made the event more tragic was that it was supposedly all done in the name of Christianity. This unfortunately NOT Christ intended for his followers to act like. I understand their intentions but I really felt that the Puritans of that time didn't really understand God's love and grace. Lauren's story is equally as enthralling. I think the reason why I enjoyed it as much as I did was because she's around the same age as I am. I personally didn't see anything wrong with her way of thinking as opposed to her roommate, who actually got on my nerves at times. But I liked her character very much, and her job of transcribing the diary sounds like a dream job for a history major like myself. Abigail too held an interesting story, and it was hers that made me want to cry. A lifetime of regret due to being afraid to love. Susan Meissner has created another masterpiece. Every one of her books has made my top 10 list of the year and this one definitely will be added to it. VERY HIGHLY recommended.
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LibraryThing member whitreidtan
Lauren Durough is the only child of a fabulously wealthy and successful entreprenurial father. She has spent her whole life trying to live up to the family legend of success and ability. But she doesn't want to do everything the way that she imagines her father wants her to and so she enacts small
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moments of rebellion, choosing to go to a state school instead of Stanford. She lives in a dorm with a roommate instead of alone in a fancy condo. And she has now decided that she wants to forgo the allowance that has made her college life so easy so she applies for a job. But Lauren is not finished walking off the beaten path, applying for a job in which none of the other English majors is interested. And when she goes to Abigail's gracious home and hears that the job is to transcribe Abigail's distant relative's diary from the time of the Salem witch trials, she wants the job desperately.

The novel weaves the stories of Lauren, the elderly Abigail, and the long deceased Mercy together. Mercy's diary was probably the most interesting bit of the story but instead of choosing to portray it in the language and tone of the times, Meissner chose to have the diary be in modern language which made it hard to distinguish between Mercy's voice and Lauren's. There was no real legitimate argument for having Abigail ask Lauren to not only transcribe the diary but to transliterate it as well to make it accessible to a modern reader. If Abigail's intention was to have the diary published, an intention she disclaims, that might be one thing but as she doesn't there is no compelling reason to her request, thereby robbing the novel of some of its authenticity.

The love story between Mercy and John Peter is sweet and charming as portrayed in the diary and certainly is a foil to the long ago love of Abigail's that Lauren pushes to discover. But the story of Abigail's love and loss is abrupt and never fully fleshed out making it hard to compare it to the sacrifice that Mercy makes. Many of the plot threads in the story are not so much left dangling as ignored completely once the end of the story nears and that is a frustrating thing. I don't think the strived for parallels between all three of the women were as successful as I suspect they should have been. I didn't love the book, because of these flaws but I'm not sorry I read it. There was potential there and the nugget of the story was a good one that just didn't fully work.
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LibraryThing member cherryblossommj
This is one of the most deeply moving novels that I have ever read, and without a doubt it is going on my favorites' shelf in my permanent library. The Shape of Mercy is a story that crosses generations and is both historical and contemporary. I can easily find myself relating to Mercy from early
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American history as well as Lauren from contemporary life. Life and love is an incredibly deep concept and is amazing how they affect our day to day lives and decisions.

As human beings, no matter what century we live in, we care about what other people think (no matter how much we argue it) and live our lives in a small manner to fit into a specific place. The sociology of our day to day environment shapes us and often times it is to something that we do not like, but it is what it is and what we need to live with.

Susan Meissner is an incredible organizer of words that fits together some beautiful poetry and prose to give the shape of the ideal of mercy. Through this book, I was taken into three different worlds and captivated. Life went on for me outside of this book, but the book never left my thoughts. Lauren dreamed of Mercy, and I dreamed of them all. Susan created a masterpiece that stays with you and makes you think. This is the first I have read from her, and I cannot wait to pick up something else equally as inspirational and convicting. I do not know how to go pick up another book after such an experience.
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LibraryThing member cyndidd
I wasn't sure if I would like Susan Meissner's book, *The Shape of Mercy*, since it's focus seems to be the Salem witch trials. But, I was in for a surprise.

Lauren Durough goes to work for an elderly woman, transcribing a diary written by a girl accused of being a witch during the Salem witch
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trials. As Lauren uncovers more of Mercy's story, she also learns more about herself.

I would encourage just about anyone to read this book. It is a story within a story, and a very well written one at that.
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LibraryThing member debs4jc
This novel packs a powerful punch as the reader gets drawn into the dramatic story of a young women involved in the Salem witch trials. The story starts in the modern day, however, as Lauren--a college student with a trust fund--becomes intrigued by an ad posted on a school bulletin board. It is a
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help wanted ad for someone to transcribe a diary. Lauren answers the ad and despite the imposing nature of the diary's owner, Abigail Boyles, she gets the job and is thrilled to learn that the diary belonged to a young girl living in Salem during the time of the witch trials. What Lauren doesn't count on is how emotionally involved she will get with the story of Mercy, the author of the diary, and how it will affect her own life choices.
This novel is so intriguing on many levels, but mainly because of the excellent job of capturing the drama of the Salem witch trials and the difficult choices that Mercy was faced with. Fans of well written Christian fiction, and those who love history must read this one.
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LibraryThing member taramatchi
What this book had going for it... A powerful diary of a girl who was to be hanged in the Salem witch trials. The story of Mercy through the diary was strong and I looked forward to these snippets.
What was not so great... The book was preachy. The author was very overt on her message and what she
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wanted the reader to take from this book. Although I don't think that the book says it is contemporary fiction, I can see why people have shelved this book as christian lit.
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LibraryThing member lindap69
I've found a new favorite author! I loved the storytelling, the characters, the interweaving of historical and contemporary events as well as the opportunities to ponder who we are and why we are here.
LibraryThing member bnbooklady
This book was a bit of a departure for me, as I don't generally read religious fiction or historical fiction, but I found it captivating and compelling. As the main character, Lauren Durough, sets out to transcribe the 400-year-old journals of Mercy Hayworth, who was a victim of the Salem witch
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trials, she learns a great deal about herself and is forced to examine and change the way she thinks about the world. This is an engrossing read with a very light religious element.

Full review at The Book Lady's Blog
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LibraryThing member clue
Lauren Duroughs is a student at UC Santa Barbara although her dad would have preferred she attend Stanford. She is also living in a dorm although her father wanted to buy her a condo. The Duroughs are rich, probably very rich, but Lauren wants to experience a different college life than her dad
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expected her to want.

Lauren's sophomore year she decides to find a part time job so that she is contributing to her expenses. When she finds a notice on the bulletin board for a Literary Assistant wanted for a transcription project she is curious enough to apply. The job turns out to be a surprising project. Eighty-three year old Abigail Boyles's ancestor was Mercy Hayworth, a victim of the Salem witch trials. It's Mercy's journal Abigail wants transcribed. The diary was kept from January 8, 1692 through September 21, 1692.

Lauren, who works in Abigail's home, finds herself quickly drawn to Mercy. The relationship between Abigail and Lauren, and Lauren's relationship with her family are intermingled with Mercy's accounts of life 300 years ago.

I loved the "Mercy" entries and was always eager to get to the next but I thought Lauren and Abigail were rather tiresome, with Lauren overwhelmed with self-doubt and Abigale embittered over a decision she made when she was young. After I finished reading I looked at reviews on Amazon and LT to see what other readers thought and was surprised to see some say they didn't know why the book was considered Christian fiction. Neither do I.

A mixed read and a quick one.
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LibraryThing member olegalCA
Great idea, poor execution.
LibraryThing member bell7
Lauren has always lived a life of privilege, but she goes to a state school, lives in a dorm, and wants to get a job, even though she could just use her parents' allowance and live off-campus. The job posting that most intrigues her is a transcription job, and her boss is an older woman who has
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refused the job to many English majors before her. Abigail owns the diary of Mercy Hayworth, a woman accused of witchcraft during the Salem trials, and wants someone to not only transcribe the diary but also understand Mercy. When Lauren takes the job, she finds herself immersed in this other woman's life, and starts questioning assumptions she's made all her life.

I tend to like books with first-person narration, because I can stay in a character's head and feel like I'm getting to know them, so using both Lauren as a narrator and Mercy's diary was a neat device and helped me "know" both characters. Some things seemed resolved a little quickly (an Internet search here, and problem solved...), but it was a good story and left me feeling happy in the end.
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LibraryThing member Maydacat
This novel explores the lives of three strong women, each from different generations and times. Mercy, accused of being a witch during the Salem witch trials; Abigail, who chose social standing over love during World War II; and Lauren, college sophomore who stands at the crossroads of her life.
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This well told and compelling story will give you much to think about long after the story is done. Lauren wishes she could see people on the inside before she comes to any conclusions. But her father responds, “Yes, that would be better than the other, but is still makes you their judge.” As you come to know the characters and understand the reasons behind their actions, you may even discover something about yourself. A great read; highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member reciperhon
This story had a plot connecting a character from four centuries ago to two characters of today. Even after I finished the book, I was still thinking about the characters like they were my new best friends.

This is the second book of Susan Meissner's that I have read. I picked this book with the
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hopes that it would be as good as "Lady In Waiting." Susan Meissner does not disappoint. It was again another riveting story that I could not put down.

There were a couple of parts in it that made me think, "What would I do in this situation?" I don't know if I could have done what the characters did. It definitely made me think.

I look forward to more books by Susan Meissner.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.
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LibraryThing member Headinherbooks_27
It was so easy to be captivated by all the characters and their stories. The story continues to unfold and pulls you in up to the very last page.
LibraryThing member resugo
this book is about three women: Lauren, the main narrator, who finds a job with Abigail, and old lady, transcribing the journal of Mercy, a Puritan who lived during the Salem witch trials. In the beginning I was more interested in Lauren and her story. I was actually tempted to skip some of her
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journal entries because I didn't care very much. But by a third of the way through it was Mercy's story that kept me reading. I liked Lauren a lot, Abigail some, and Mercy tons. The next morning after finishing this book I woke up thinking about Mercy. And for weeks afterward.

I think this book wonderful.
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LibraryThing member rmarcin
Lauren is hired by Abigail to transcribe a diary of a woman accused of being a witch in the 1600s and dying by hanging. As Lauren rebels against her parents' wealth, choosing things that don't exude money, she starts to feel a connection to the diary writer, Mercy Hayworth, who is Abigail's
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ancestor. Lauren sees many similarities between herself and Mercy, and the choices Mercy makes. As she reads more and more, she wonders about Abigail and her decision to hire Lauren.
The book is about prejudice, superstition, bending to norms, and making unwarranted judgments about people. As Lauren reads the diary, she comes to understand how she has behaved in her life, and the opinions she has formed - and whether or not they are justified. It is a novel about growth and self-examination, and shedding the preconceived notions of people.
Well written.
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