Miss Pym and a Friend

Miss Pym and a Friend

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Oh, Mercy Me

Mercy by Jodi Picoult

The work of the late Dr. Jack Kevorkian has pushed euthanasia and mercy killing into the media and public consciousness for some time now.   My students watched a video about some of his more famous cases, and wrote about them in legal and ethics classes.

In this novel by Picoult, we have to wonder where Mercy is being dispensed.

The plot revolves around the Clan MacDonald, transplanted to a small New England Town.  Shades of Brigadoon haunt the setting; the MacDonald patriarch, Angus, is transplanted  from his family castle to the New England Town.  He Time Travels in his dreams to the Braveheart Era of Scotland’s history that would have made Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scot proud.  He fights battles with his Scottish ancestors that parallel the struggles of his 21st century family.

A lot of battle cries shriek through this book.  The female protagonist, wife of the police chief,  who is also a MacDonald, sells all her husband’s possessions at a yard sale the whole town attends, even his Clan heirlooms and dress uniforms.  In fact, the book opens with the yard sale, a seemingly vindictive act, that contradicts the book’s title.  Is Picoult being ironic? Where is Mercy for the Chief, who is Chief of the Clan, and not just Chief of Police.

As if that isn’t enough, a not-so-distant cousin and childhood friend arrives in town with his dead wife in the passenger seat of his car. Dr. Jaime MacDonald, a scientist of rare talent to creates Virtual Reality games ala Brainstorm and Total Recall, seeks The Chief to confess he has mercy-killed his wife, at her own behest.

Maggie, the wife, has been suffering from cancer.

Once again, the book is extremely well constructed and well written.  I have to applaud Picoult’s success.  She borrows from romance, melodrama, the macabre, mythology, fantasy, classic literature, and many other genres to weave a tale that is also contemporary and thought provoking.

Her subplots are as interesting as the main story; why does the Chief feel he must commit adultery with his wife’s friend and employee.  How can Maggie, in pain and deathly ill, engage in a very public make out session with her husband, a picnic, and several other bucket list social events the night before he smothers her with a pillow.

Why does a loving wife exact such a selfish, fundamentally immoral promise from her devoted husband?

Chief Macdonald hires the best lawyer he can for his cousin, yet must cooperate with the DA, who is, horror of horrors, a Campbell, member of a rival clan.  Enter a little Romeo and Juliet sprinkled with The Hatfields and McCoys and garnished with West Side Story. (Did I mention that my late cat Emma was part Hatfield?)

Moira, the “other woman’ is a true Celtic temptress,  Fey, but also frumpy, staid in her profession of flower arranging, but her arrangements smack of herbal magic, love potions and witchcraft.  She has no trouble being the friend of the Chief’s wife, but also usurping her place in his bed.

At this point, I can’t help myself, I must say, “Hail to the Chief!”  He manages to up hold Clannish honor, maintain the peace, and satisfy two women at once.

Jaime MacDonald is both pathetic and grotesque.  There is something carnivalesque about his  role as Maggie’s doomed lover and sad clown.  One scene has him standing nude by her gurney as EMT’s attempt to revive her after one of her near death, but pre-homicide experiences.

All kidding aside, the trial scenes are detailed and well written.  We forgive the author any technical issues in the name of poetic license.  She certainly understands reader response theory and holds our interest as a storyteller.

I’m just disturbed that murder in any form is condoned.  What takes place between Jaime and Maggie is not so much mercy killing, as giving into Maggie’s ego and dominant will.  Maggie is not the only victim in Picoult’s homicides that becomes unappealing by the end of the novel, the same  is true of teenaged Emily in The Pact.

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