Under the Mercy Trees
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Under the Mercy Trees

3.45 of 5 stars 3.45  ·  rating details  ·  465 ratings  ·  113 reviews
Thirty years ago, Martin Owenby came to New York City with dreams of becoming a writer. Now his existence revolves around cheap Scotch and weekend flings with equally damaged men. When he learns that his older brother, Leon, has gone missing, he must return to the Owenby farm in Solace Fork, North Carolina, to assist in the search. But that means facing a past filled with...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published January 18th 2011 by Harper Perennial (first published December 29th 2010)
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Patrick Cumby
Heather Newton has written a remarkable novel that plunges deep into the hearts and souls of a family as they struggle to deal with the disappearance of one of their own. Leon Owensby lived alone in the dilapidated home-place, a hard, taciturn man, like his father before him, with no apparent ambition other than to be left alone. But it hadn't always been so. Leon had once burned with a secret desire that had almost torn the family apart. And the ghost of that desire threatens the family once ag...more
I love a good drama, and this one was surely that. The eloquent writing style of this author makes it hard to believe this is her debut book. The imagery and wonderfully descriptive style of this story made it a true delight to read.

As the story progressed, somewhat slowly at times, I found myself becoming very attached to the Owenby family. Each family member was flawed in some way and you couldn't help as a reader, to become invested in their lives. While the entire lot of characters were dysf...more
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In the rural (fictional) town of Solace Forks, North Carolina, death and birth are the only events that can draw the Owensby family to share the same space. In Heather Newton’s lovely debut novel, her deeply flawed characters are not loveable or pitiable. But they are undeniably poignant. This is not a novel of young love and happy endings. The majority of her characters are eligible for the senior discount at...more
Pavarti Tyler
Under the Mercy Trees by Heather Newton is not easy to characterize. I think Southern Literary Fiction would be the best description, but if that was on a book shelf I would have never picked it up! Which would be a tragedy. Newton has created a full world filled with fascinating and distinct characters. While it's a fluid read issues of mental health, abuse, homophobia, love and family are dealt with head on. You aren't spared the painful details of the character's inner demons.

At first I thoug...more
Rachel Ireland
"I am not sure how to really go into this review. I both liked it and disliked it. I disliked it because it was such a long story that was drug out too much, at times. I liked it, however, because this first time author really shows talent and created a complex, dramatic story that is life like and filled with characters who have flaws. Not fake-y stuff. Simple, normal, and even dysfunctional flaws. That's what brings out the complexity of the novel." I actually stole this review from someone el...more
Fonda Quinn
Good. Read it for the book club. Looking forward to the discussion and hearing other opinions.
Martin Owenby currently lives in New York City, having escaped the place of his childhood, Solace Forks, North Carolina. He is an unsuccessful writer, drinks heavily, and has meaningless relationships with various men. Martin is forced to return home to his family when his brother, Leon, goes missing. Bringing the Owenby siblings together again causes them to confront their past, and even present.

The author effortlessly weaves the past within the present story, showing how characters have been s...more
Jan 12, 2011 ReviewsByMolly rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: most everyone
Recommended to ReviewsByMolly by: TLC
I am not sure how to really go into this review. I both liked it and disliked it. I disliked it because it was such a long story that was drug out too much, at times. I liked it, however, because this first time author really shows talent and created a complex, dramatic story that is life like and filled with characters who have flaws. Not fake-y stuff. Simple, normal, and even dysfunctional flaws. That's what brings out the complexity of the novel.

I am still, too, a little unsure of Martin's c...more
Tina Ray
Fabulous book! A debut novel(always my favorite) by Heather Newton. The oldest brother of a family of five siblings goes missing in North Carolina in 1986. This forces the estranged youngest brother to return home to face his own past, and the secrets of generations. Under the Mercy Trees is told from four different people. Martin; the estranged brother, Liza; a girlfriend from his childhood until he realizes he is really homosexual. Bertie, the depressed and anxious wife of his other brother Ja...more
I read this book in three days (would have read it straight through if I'd had the uninterrupted time). There are five adult siblings in the Owenby family of Solace Fork, NC (rural, mountain community where "you can't swing a dead cat without hitting an Owenby"), one of whom goes missing, and one of whom--long-gone prodigal son--returns home. The story unfolds in four masterfully controlled points of view, and by the end of the book, it was clear to me why the author chose the voices she did, an...more
Mary Moore
I didn't grow up in the North Carolina mountains, but reading this novel set in those hills leaves me feeling homesick. At its heart, this novel--written decades after the classic NC-mountain novel, LOOK HOMEWARD ANGEL--is about leaving home, losing the people we love, and whether it's possible to go back. These themes are played out with a superb cast of characters, and the story is told with wisdom, insight, and with quietly beautiful language.

Primarily set in the late 1980s, the novel is bui...more
How long can you run from your past? Weeks? Months? Years? How long can you ignore the truth before you are forced to face it? Fear, shame and self-loathing no longer work. There comes a time eventually when you have to face the past. Several characters in Under the Mercy Trees by Heather Newton are running from their pasts. A tragedy within the Owenby family of Solace Fork, N.C., forces everything to the surface.

It's 1986, and Martin, the youngest of the Owenby family, learns that his older bro...more
Jennifer Jensen (Literally Jen)
“Under the Mercy Trees” by Heather Newton, a family saga spanning 30 years, is a book that deserves to be read slowly and with concentration. The cast of characters was sometimes overwhelming for me, and if one does not pay careful attention to who is who and how they are related, it can be very easy to lose one’s way while reading this novel. By the time I reached the last section of this novel, I found myself wishing I’d kept a list of all of the characters and how they knew one another. Only...more

This is a sad book, unless you consider all of Ivy's ghosts. Ivy's ghosts make everything bearable, at least to this reader. The family is together, things are understood and known even if old arguments continue, there is continuity. With continuity it is much easier to accept the failings of people and the hurts that they inflict because a life can be seen in its entirety, forgiveness can be given and accepted. I guess I really like the idea that our relatives are often around, bickering, doing...more
Feb 24, 2011 Pam rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: kindle
I loved this book. It kind of reminded me of Empire Falls from Richard Russo. It's just a slice of American life. The life in this case is the Owenby family.

The Owenby family is described chapter by chapter, each chapter focusing on one of the four main family members, though the main character is Martin Owenby.

Martin, a down-on-his-luck writer in New York returns to North Carolina because his brother Leon has gone missing. The storly slowly unfolds as the family deals with the feelings of the...more
Michael Jenkins
I had high expectations reading this, I thought it was going to be far better. Although I learning about the people that Leo left behind, the ending was a huge let down. The characters were fairly developed, I like their contribution to the story. For instance, Martin was a likeable character that was easily misunderstood by his other family members. I felt that they discriminated against him due to his sexual preference, it made them seem shallow. Martin obviously did not want to return home bu...more
Under the Mercy Trees by Heather Newton begins when Leon Owenby goes missing. His brother, Martin, returns to the family farm in Solace Fork, North Carolina after decades in New York City to help look for his brother. Martin left with dreams of becoming a writer, but finds his life centered around booze and flings with men. Returning to the Owenby farm means encountering the demons of his past, including Liza, the girl who's heart he broke. Under the Mercy Trees alternates in perspective between...more
When I received Under the Mercy Trees by Heather Newton, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I received, however, was a compelling novel full of dynamic characters that pulled me right into the middle of a family drama where I happily stayed for a couple of weeks. Generally, when I am forced to focus on multiple characters in books, they are poorly written and my focus is divided to the point where I cannot enjoy the read, but it was not the case in this book and I was able to truly understand th...more
Judi/Judith Riddle
The Owenbys are simple country people who live in a western North Carolina mountain town. Except for Martin, they don't have and mostly don't want connection with the outside world. They spend most of their time absorbed in minding each other's business. The story is centered around five siblings, Leon, the oldest has disappeared and the plot centers around what happened to him The greed and jealousy and the love between the sisters and brothers runs unrestrained in this family. Martin, with his...more
Holly Weiss
Inspired by an incident in her husband’s family, debut author Heather Newton explores human regret, broken relationships and loss of family communication in Under the Mercy Trees, a January 18, 2011 paperback release from Harper Publishing.

During her childhood, Ms. Newton and her siblings played on a tree which looked much like an elephant trunk, believing it was magical. The book’s title, Under the Mercy Trees, is reminiscent of those trees ravaged by Hurricane Hazel. The trees survived but gre...more
Sara Strand
It really is a slow read. But when I finished it, I was glad I did because all of these characters pull at you. Not just Martin and Liza (the girl who loved him), but all of the Owenby family. They are all screwed up in their own right but each one has a story. This is one of the rare books that completes the story of all of the character. Oftentimes when you have a book that each chapter focuses on a different character's point of view, somebody's story gets lost in the shuffle and it doesn't...more
Kaje Harper
3.5 stars. This is at heart a Southern family novel, with a cast of characters, albeit more real and less eccentric than in some versions. The primary focal character is Martin, who escaped from his family to New York. He's a writer, college educated and gay and a poor fit with the rest of his kin. But there are other characters whose viewpoints are taken up, especially his childhood friend Liza who never left Solace Fork, NC, and his aunt Ivy, who sees ghosts. The author makes the unusual choic...more
UNDER THE MERCY TREES by Heather Newton is an interesting contempory novel set in the 1850's and 1980's in Solace Fork,North Carolina a mountain town.This is this author's debut novel.It is well written with depth and details inspired partly by her husband's family and partly by her own experience. This is the story of North Carolina mountain life,a gay man,
a homecoming,family,deception,secrets,bitterness,healing,and facing the past.To the Owenby family bitterness among themselves is nothing usu...more
Ohhh...I liked this. It broke my summer book club dry spell! My 4th book after 3 previous ones unfinished, and it was a winner!

A little story for you: I was at the Journey/Foreigner concert Sunday night (and yes, it was awesome, thanks for asking), enjoying myself immensely, and I was sitting in my chair, enjoying the good music. But on occasion, Journey would try out a new song from their new album (which I could care less about), so my brain would drift, just waiting for them to play "Any Way...more
Debbie Maskus
This book reminded me of William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. The main emphasis of the novel rests in the characters. I did not like the way the author jumped around from first person to third person in the narrative. Newton writes a Southern novel seeped in quirky and vindictive characters within the setting of decay as in the home place and the school. The story opens with the disappearance of Leon, one of five children born to a poor sharecropper/farmer in the 1920-1930's. At the end of...more
Suzanne Moore
It seems each member of the Owenby family had some sort of dysfunctional issue. The problems probably went back for generations, but are traced only as far as the parents of Leon, James, Martin, and Ivy.

Martin reflects on his father's heavy hand and abusive treatment. His mother was hard-working but appears intimidated by her husband. Years have passed and Leon's disappearance brings Martin home to join forces with his siblings in trying to locate him. Although the story switches from character...more
This book grew on me, and there were many things I liked about it - the author's prose is lovely, the device of having each chapter told from the viewpoint of one of the main characters works well here. But, to me, much of it was too stereotypical to really win me over - dysfunctional Southern family (and note to anyone reading: Southern families are NOT always dysfunctional and violent), one child gets away and makes good (seems to me that lately whatever child gets away always becomes a writer...more
My sister-in-law insisted I read this book. I will admit that for the past many, many days I have been telling her the same thing: I like this book, but I keep finding reasons to set it aside. It's just not grabbing hold of me. She kept telling me to keep on, and I did. Today during a lull at the store I decided to pick it up and knock a little more off, and OH MY GOODNESS did it ever just reach out and yank me up. I knew from the get-go that Heather Newton's writing was marvelous but I just was...more
I got a free advanced e-version of an advanced reader's copy of this book from NetGalley. The story follows a family in rural North Carolina. The book begins with the mysterious disappearance of the eldest brother. His disappearance leads the youngest brother of the family a gay man, who long ago left his family and North Carolina to return. The story is told through the perspectives of various family members as well as the high school girlfriends of the gay brother. The story moves back and for...more
This book was on my to-read list for awhile and it was chosen because it takes place in North Carolin where I am from. I recently found it at a used book sale for $1.00 so I thought why not! It was definitely quite a bargain as this is a story that kept me connected to both the characters as individuals as well as a group. It also led me on a journey through my state in the late 40's - 80's. This is a story of a very dysfunctional family that somehow functions. Martin, one of the family members...more
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