Their lives were in a constant state of never-ending schedules and arrangements. Between the two of them were jobs, parenthood, and communicating the arrangements that would successfully get them through their days. Ellen’s social work career is especially stressful, with interruptions to her sleep and family life. But life in Cedar City, Iowa, is just about to get more troubling for Ellen and her family, when, on one especially hectic morning, Adam and Ellen Moore make a serious error in communication that would have disastrous and life-altering repercussions.
Meanwhile, the trajectory of another life is also impacted when young Jenny Briard, aged ten, has crossed paths with Ellen in the form of her mother Maudene. Jenny is fleeing the unknown of her own life back in Benton, Nebraska, where she saw her father arrested just as the bus they were boarding is set to leave for Iowa. She meets Maudene when she enters a Happy Pancake restaurant in Cedar City, a familiar site she has enjoyed back home.
Alternate narrators lead us through Little Mercies: Ellen’s first person narrative shows us her inner thoughts and feelings as she traverses the unknown terrain of life on the other side of the courtroom. Someone who is charged with an offense. Someone who realizes, with alarm, that her reputation as a professional and valued social worker cannot protect her from what unfolds. In some ways, her position seems to have intensified the reactions of the public and the press.
In Jenny’s narrative, told convincingly in her youthful voice, we learn her fears, her worries, and how she perceives the life changes she is experiencing. And in her quest to find family, she has placed herself on a path to hidden dangers.
With the lives of these characters seemingly in freefall, the “little mercies” include those who offer them the necessary support as they face what lies ahead.
One such person for both Ellen and Jenny was Maudene. I was especially drawn to this scene between Ellen and her mother, in which Maudene relates an incident from her own past, when she made a mistake that could have ended badly:
“I guess what I’m trying to say is that we all have our moments. We all have those times when we turn our backs, close our eyes, become unguarded…We’ll get through this. You have to look for the little mercies, the small kindnesses and good that comes from the terrible.”
As a parent and a retired social worker, I was especially drawn to this story of the events that can transform lives, and how we all can look back and consider how our lives could have turned on a dime if one small choice or action had ended differently. Since none of us are immune to life’s unexpected tragedies, perhaps we can afford to look with empathy and kindness on others. An emotional read that had me crying tears of sadness…and then joy. Five stars.