Small Mercies by Eddie Joyce is a family drama told from alternating perspectives about the Amendolas, a family from Staten Island. The book takes place over one pivotal week in the lives of Gail (the mother), Michael (the father), Peter (one son), Franky (another son), and Tina (the daughter-in-law), who was married to a third son, Bobby, who is now dead. Bobby was a firefighter killed in one of the towers on 9/11, and the book takes place ten years later.
When this debut novel opens, Gail is preparing for her grandson Bobby Jr.’s birthday party, which she is hosting at her house. Tina then breaks the news to her that she has been seeing someone, and that she’d like to bring him to the party. This stirs up a lot of emotions for Gail, who is still grieving the loss of her son and feels that Tina’s finding a new boyfriend is a betrayal of her son’s memory. Tina’s news is also the narrative excuse for Joyce to explore how the rest of the family is coping with losing Bobby. The narration goes back and forth between the present day and points in the past, so the reader gets a complete story of each character and how they got to where they were.
I liked Small Mercies quite a bit. I enjoyed the setting – Staten Island, a borough that has always been a bit of a mystery to me – and Joyce’s ability to bring it to life through his characters. I thought Joyce did a great job getting into their heads and exposing their grief not only about losing Bobby, but for some, about how their lives turned out. They’re all flawed, and have done things they aren’t proud of, but Joyce at least explains why and provides each character’s perspective.
Joyce covers a lot of ground here: 9/11, of course, but also corporate law firms, high school sports, March Madness, the pressure to do what your father did, and the changes modern times have brought to a traditional Italian neighborhood across the river from Manhattan. Joyce is a clean, detailed writer and Small Mercies flowed easily. Despite its subject matter, it is not a heavy or difficult read at all.
I mostly listened to Small Mercies on audio, and the narration by Scott Aiello was excellent. His Staten Island accent was very good (at least I assume so), and he really brought the characters to life. There is quite a range of characters here – men, women, older, younger – and Aiello really distinguished them well and infused each one with his or her own tone, breathiness and pacing. Overall it was a very good audiobook that enhanced my enjoyment of the book.
If you like modern American family sagas told from multiple perspectives, then Small Mercies is probably right for you. I look forward to reading more from Eddie Joyce.