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The Mercy Seat

Elizabeth H. Winthrop

8 Reviews

Rated 0

Louisiana, Historical fiction, Sentencing & punishment

An unforgettable novel - a riveting, heart-wrenching story of injustice and racism in 1940s Louisiana that is as powerful and profound as it is timely.

As the sun begins to set over Louisiana one October day in 1943, a young black man faces the final hours of his life: at midnight, eighteen-year-old Willie Jones will be executed by electric chair for raping a white girl - a crime some believe he did not commit.

In a tale taut with tension, events unfold hour by hour from the perspectives of nine people involved. They include Willie himself, who knows what really happened, and his father, desperately trying to reach the town jail to see his son one last time; the prosecuting lawyer, haunted by being forced to seek the death penalty against his convictions, and his wife, who believes Willie to be innocent; the priest who has become a friend to Willie; and a mother whose only son is fighting in the Pacific, bent on befriending her black neighbours in defiance of her husband.

In this exceptionally powerful novel, Elizabeth Winthrop explores matters of justice, racism and the death penalty in a fresh, subtle and profoundly affecting way. Her kaleidoscopic narrative allows us to inhabit the lives of her characters and see them for what they are - complex individuals, making fateful choices we might not condone, but can understand.

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Praise for The Mercy Seat

  • It takes a brave writer to compose a novel about the execution of an African-American man in the Deep South when the topic has previously been brought to life by authors like Harper Lee and Ernest Gaines. There are multiple possibilities for failure: preachiness, melodrama and bias, to name a few. But Elizabeth H. Winthrop avoids these hazards by writing well, demonstrating once again that while the subject matter is the body of the narrative, the prose itself is the soul and the thing that makes a topic new . . . [The novel] gathers great power as it rolls on propelled by its many voices. - New York Times

  • In this spare, taut novel, the separate stories of the people around an execution join together to form a portrait of a town, a mentality, a moment in time. This is a compelling, sorrowful read, deeply perceptive and wonderfully full of grace.

  • This taut, deft novel asks us to look, and to look hard, and our willingness is profoundly honoured.

  • Please celebrate Winthrop's audacious determination to walk through the narrative minefield of this account of an electrocution in the Deep South during the Gothic worst of Jim Crow times. Winthrop redeems her daring by lovely discipline and dignity, by the care she lavishes on each of her rounded characters. The Mercy Seat is a truly bravura performance.

  • Some novels seem to set your soul ablaze with an author-induced explosion of empathy for our flawed, beautiful world. The Mercy Seat does just that . . .astonishingly moving . . . Narrated in turn by nine characters, Winthrop's story has the inexorable pace of a thriller; her writing of voice and character is masterful. And like the best fiction about the past, The Mercy Seat speaks to the challenges of the present. It's an astonishing feat. - The Amazon Book Review

  • Winthrop creates a kaleidoscopic narrative that captures the wildly different perspectives of characters beyond accuser and accused. . . Suspenseful and highly nuanced, Winthrop's novel raises profound questions about truth and justice. - 5 Hot Books, The National Book Review

  • This is an atmospheric, subtle and beautifully crafted portrait of a divided community, riven by prejudice. Echoing William Faulkner and Harper Lee, this moving novel has clear contemporary resonance. - Mail on Sunday

  • A heart-rending, devastating read.Nina Pottell, Prima - Prima

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Elizabeth H. Winthrop

Elizabeth H. Winthrop was born and raised in New York City. She graduated from Harvard University in 2001 with a BA in English and American Literature and Language, and in 2004 she received her Master of Fine Arts in fiction from the University of California at Irvine. Her stories have appeared in a variety of publications including the Missouri Review and the Indiana Review. Fireworks, her first novel, was published by Sceptre in 2006, her second, December, was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick for 2009, she pulished her third novel, The Why of Things, in 2013. The Mercy Seat is her most recent work, published by Sceptre. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, daughter and St. Bernard, and is Assistant Professor of English/Creative Writing at Endicott College.

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