The Speed of Mercy is a meditation
on how we put love,
kindness and compassion
into a harsh world.
You’ve asked before — why did I write The Speed of Mercy? Let me explain.
Last year, the new publisher at House of Anansi, Bruce Walsh, asked me this question: What compelled you to write The Speed of Mercy? I sent him a letter. Then, in my effort to get a few endorsements (blurbs as we call them), I also was asked to describe the book. Honestly, no one has ever asked me this, aside from you, with any other book or story I’ve written.
As I wrote my replies, I was creating a personal reflection, the kind I avoid when deep in the creative work. Here’s my rumination:
An unlikely band of heroes, young girls, old women, middle aged women who live on the fringes of society…
I wanted to write a story about an unlikely band of heroes, young girls, old women, middle aged women, mentally ill women, women who live on the fringes of society, literally, and emotionally, who were all, in their own way, on that universal search for identity and belonging. The Speed of Mercy is a meditation how we put love, kindness and compassion into a harsh world.
Rather than working against each other, in a society which sets females against each other, their resiliency and triumph will reside in discovered friendship, with others and themselves. I wanted to show that these discarded and forgotten people could be the best detectives because of their differences and their unwillingness, to conform. Their greatest societal weakness was in fact, their genuine source of power, and the key to finding a deeper world where true kinship and identity and voice resides.
…the beauty and peculiarity of Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge and the strangeness of David Lynch.
I wanted to write a page turner of a mystery with the story intensity of a Stephen king novel, but with the lyricism of Emily Dickinson, the humour of Anne Lamott, the beauty and peculiarity of Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge and the strangeness of David Lynch.
My characters took me on a journey with them, literally and metaphorically, a voyage women take at different life stages, when they are searching for a sense of identity, voice, belonging and home, home in the world, and at home within themselves, at home together.
A quest encased in the cloak of escape and puzzlement
So much of female identity is prescribed, particularly as one emerges from adolescence, and then again at midlife and then again in oldladyhood. And so much hereditary wisdom has been lost in time, hidden and forgotten. I wanted the book to be about a literal road trip, a quest which is encased in the cloak of escape and puzzlement, but casts that cape off to reveal itself as a quest through a labyrinth, replete with tests, riddles.
Beyond All Things Is The Sea
The ocean serves as the metaphor, where ancient knowledge and rhythms reside, but of course we have the ocean within us. We are created in an internal salt water sea. We then move forward in life with these vital internal channels, bays and currents guiding us.
Road Trip Redux
When I was writing The Speed of Mercy, at times Thelma and Louise came to me, two women on the run from a merciless world in which they no longer saw any harbours of safety. They choose death. In The Speed of Mercy, Mal, Stella and Dianne, don’t choose death – they seize and embody magnificent lives they didn’t know existed. And they don’t find a harbour – they instead find that endless ocean that is life, where they are forevermore at home.
Women writers, of all ages, still have thrust upon them the stories of Perseus, Odysseus, Heracles, King Arthur, Harry Potter, On the Road, Of Mice and Men, The Catcher in the Rye, The Lord of the Rings—stories of men and their search for home and voice.
If Thelma and Louise were Thad and Louis, would we call it Chick Lit? Or Hound Dog Lit? No, it would be an important cinematic exploration on desperate male friends finally breaking free from social and class constraints thrust upon them, come what may.
“Her sentences are fluid, long and filled with emotion much like Jack Kerouac’s coming of age stories.”
I read Kerouac’s On the Road at twenty. What struck me then was the violent disregard for women (if that’s not an oxymoron), along with the lust for freedom from suffocating constraints of post war society norms. What strikes me now is how hard I tried to find my place in that book, young and longing to be free of oppression. Imagine my delight/horror when Heave,
my first novel, was described thus: “Her sentences are fluid, long and filled with emotion much like Jack Kerouac’s coming of age stories.”
I wanted to write a story that is at once classical and contemporary, but of females on the road homeward, on the journey and the quest, finding their voices as they travel, their individual voices, and the mysterious choral song we are all singing, wherein lies the answer to the enigma of what it is to be briefly alive in the history of time.
I heard the mermaids…
You know the Eleusinian Mysteries, how Persephone goes down to the dark world, but comes back every year with lightness, warmth and fecundity? That’s sort of how I see the arc of female life, and at the end, we go back to the elemental realm which made us.
This is my thing with mermaids, with sirens and merrows, selkies and undines — that the focus has been on their appeal and danger to men, but I am re-envisioning them as the keepers of female power and immortality…with still a good dose of sexiness and danger!
Thus endeth my early rumination on why I wrote The Speed of Mercy. I’ll write to you again about my focus and intent with structure and style in the novel. You will have some things to say about this, no doubt.
Now supper needs to be cooked, and the fire is going out. Please order The Speed of Mercy.
Send me a postcard and tell me what you thought of her (address in contact info and I’ll send you back a small gift).
Sparkly love to you during these galvanizing times.
PS Here is a scribble I made for you, xo.