Mercy Road

Dalia Pagani, Author
Dalia Pagani, Author Delacorte Press $21.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-385-32016-0
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
Pagani's first novel struggles mightily for grace and occasionally finds it. Set in the Vermont mountains, it opens with gravedigging and cool-hearted lovemaking that eventually conceives a family called Summer. Despite their name, the Summers--Darlene and Earl and their three haunted children--are caught by topography in the throes of an endless winter: their home on Mercy Road (named for a hanged man and a drowned woman whose surname was Mercie) is smack in the unmerciful shadow of a neighboring mountain ridge. Earl, a trapper, gets his living by killing and skinning animals, a trade Darlene deplores. His greatest gift to her--a floor-length coat made of fox pelts--is the only garment left in her closet when she abandons him for a life of hunger and spiritual emptiness in New York City. Sorrowful and unloved, Earl bullies one son into muteness and aims a loaded rifle at his daughter. Together, apart and together again, the Summers inhabit a world of relentless pain until they have suffered so deeply that their author appears to display the character of nature, delivering mercy in an act of crippling kindness and in a child's death that resolves a tortured life. A two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Pagani clothes her story in the shimmering language of magic realism. Sometimes, she comes up with stunningly beautiful passages, but the book is ruled by a monotonous darkness, a curtain of foreboding that never lifts. (Feb.)
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