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.
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.
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.
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.
A heart-rending, devastating read.
An absorbing slice of historical fiction.
Gripping . . .This is a small book, but one certain to make a big impact. Questions are raised and left unanswered in regard to the death penalty; no matter what your belief in this regard, it's impossible not to have empathy for Willie, as the author painstakingly walks us through his final hours, the clock ticking as 'The Mercy Seat' waits.
Praise for THE WHY OF THINGS: With insight, respect and luminous clarity . . . This haunting, shimmering novel reminds us how all of us know our families: with unimaginable intimacy, and hardly at all.
Keenly observed . . . richly drawn.
Totally engrossing from start to finish. Winthrop's scene building is captivating, her characterization intricately layered, and her ability to build tension both preternatural and Hitchcockian.
Praise for DECEMBER: Winthrop is brilliant at depicting the bewildering world and its assault on the senses of a struggling adolescent . . . This extraordinary novel seduces as it also challenges: curiously provoking and offering small flashes of illumination, like matches struck in that dim and meaningful space on the far side of language.
Praise for FIREWORKS: Winthrop sketches her hapless hero with uncommon charm . . . both he and the reader learn to appreciate anew the 'non-stories' that make up life.
A bitingly intelligent writer who infuses otherwise unremarkable moments with bittersweet pathos.
A multi-layered tale of life, death and the grey pain of grief. And yet, it is not depressing . . . though slow burning, [it] still manages to be explosive.
A choral reckoning with our human cruelty and with the modesty of our very real and resisting grace - and this excellent writer's best novel yet.