I've been aware of this book for a while -- it won the prestigious Thomas Wolfe Prize back in 2011. But somehow I didn't get around to reading it till just now. I met Heather at the Writers on the Rock event a few weeks ago and again a few days ago at an Asheville bookstore where some of the faculty of the Great Smokies Writing Program were reading.
And so, because I hate to walk out of a bookstore empty-handed, I got a copy of Heather's debut novel, Under the Mercy Trees. And how glad I am that I did. I've been reading in snatches -- waiting for the canner to boil, the apples to soften, the times to tell me to take the jars out. Finally, after lunch yesterday, I fixed myself a big mug of coffee and hot milk and surrendered to the book -- sat on the sofa and read the final third of the novel.
When I was finished, it was hard to get the characters out of my mind -- and they stayed with me as I finished up with the apple sauce.
For my part, I didn't find the novel especially 'melancholy' or 'sorrowful' -- just more like life. And Booklist failed to mention how very engaging Ivy's ghosts (also family members) are.
It's a beautiful evocation of time and place and family that will linger in your mind. The interweaving of past and present is seamless and the characters were fully realized. I really loved this book and will be eager to read Heather's next. Highly recommended,