Anne Hawn Smith's Reviews > New Mercies

New Mercies by Sandra Dallas
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's review
Jun 02, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: southern-fiction, history, mystery

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the whole, I liked it. There were good characters and an interesting plot. Nora Bondurant Tate is recovering from her divorce and finds that she has inherited a crumbling antebellum house from a aunt that she didn't know she had. Nora knew little about her father and had no idea that he was from an old Natches, MS family. Even more incredible was the fact that her aunt was murdered by an old lover who committed suicide after he shot her. Her aunt was known affectionately as "the goat lady" because of the goats she raised and the milk she sold. She lived with 2 family servants in the crumbling house, the apparent last remnant of a proud old family.

I love most of Sandra Dallas' work and I think she does a great job of creating believable characters, but these people seemed to be wooden much of the time. I have Mississippi roots and family that still live there and I found some of the sayings and customs wonderful reminders, but others just weren't right. People who held certain opinions did not do certain things. It's hard to put this and not spoil the plot, but I will try. First, the book takes place in the 30's but many of the attitudes towards blacks did not ring true at all. Many of her white characters hold attitudes that just were not prevalent during that time. I also found it hard to remember that it was the 30's the book was about because certain figures of speech from the present day intruded. I guess what I am saying is that Sandra Dallas knows the Colorado mining culture and writes beautifully about it. She also knows the Persian Pickle culture. I don't believe she knows the Southern culture and was writing out of her element, making her characters less alive than in her other books.

With that being said, it is still an enjoyable book and holds together despite the above mentioned difficulties. I developed a real fondness for Nora's aunt and wished there had been more information on her. Nora is an engaging character and the only flaw I find in her is her lack of understanding of her husband and its consequenceses and the way it is handled in the book. There is too big a jump from his death and her actions in Natches. This is one time when I believe the character has more emotional baggage than the author allows her to show.

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