Martin Owenby left his small North Carolina hometown thirty years ago for New York City and never looked back. When his older brother, Leon, goes missing, he is summoned back to assist in the search. But coming back to Solace Fork means facing all the people Martin left behind – his brothers and sisters who never understood him, his best friend who has always remained loyal, and an ex-girlfriend who found herself brokenhearted when Martin left. As the mystery of Leon’s disappearance grows more tangled, so do the deep-seated issues Martin has with all these people in his life. What Martin expected to be a short trip home turns into something much more complicated as decades-kept secrets begin to come to the surface.
I don’t read a lot of Southern fiction, but every time I do I’m reminded of why I should be reading more. Under the Mercy Trees gave me that feeling for sure – I really enjoyed getting to know this family and their secrets, all the while enjoying the homey yet mysterious feel that Southern novels always deliver.
This novel deals with several characters in depth, but fortunately it never gets overwhelming. Newton devotes different chapters to different characters, and somehow I truly felt that I got to know them all pretty well. Martin of course is the central character, but everyone else – his sister-in-law Bertie, sister Ivy, ex-girlfriend Liza, brother James, and nephew Bobby, as well as several others – got plenty of attention by the author. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I fell in step with these characters, given how many there are and how complicated their lives intersect.
Under the Mercy Trees isn’t the type of book where I’d like to speak about the plot much, because there are so many aspects to the book that are better left secrets until the reader discovers them. Even the central issues between these characters aren’t fully explained until the conclusion of the novel, although there are hints and signs along the way. One of the biggest reasons I had a difficult time putting this book down is that I was so intrigued by these family secrets that I had to keep reading until I discovered them. And trust me when I say that it is much more fun to discover them yourself than for me to hint at what they might be.
What I will say is this: Under the Mercy Trees is an intricate, interesting novel that held my attention from start to finish. The characters are well-thought out, and the pacing of the mystery aspects of the novel are perfect. I truly enjoyed the novel.