A Multitude of Mercies: A Novel
by Fay Freimuth

book review by Barbara Bamberger Scott

"Laura didn’t make it home in time for Christmas. She’d gone too far off the deep end."

Something is suddenly, terribly wrong with Nan’s sister Laura. Just weeks before Laura is supposed to marry, she is confined in the local hospital, claiming she is possessed and is pregnant by a stranger. It is Nan’s first experience of Laura’s illness—schizophrenia. Their close-knit family will try to understand and cope with Laura’s episodes, her suffering, and disruptions, but, still, Nan constantly worries about her. After Laura’s wedding plans crash, there are other men. Nan knows Laura is generous and loving as well as intelligent, and she worries about Laura’s choices. What will happen when her new trucker boyfriend, Charlie, finds out about her mental problem? Laura keeps having breakdowns, making Nan herself feel crazy with stress. Her Uncle Theo wisely opines, “We’re all just a few chemicals away from insanity, Nancy.” Laura gradually learns how to take care of herself, and Nan will discover some dark family secrets and come to feel genuinely blessed by her afflicted but openhearted sister.

Writing from painful experience, Freimuth fills her story with memorable characters like Theo, the peacemaker who shares a grim history with Nan’s mother and her “wise old Grandma.” The author shows the reader the hard side of mental illness—the abusive language and behaviors, the repeated irresponsible actions—while reminding us that even a schizophrenic deserves and can give love. Freimuth has a fine grasp of dialogue and accent. Charlie, Laura’s rough Romeo, provides a fine example of her nuanced characterizations. The book projects the author’s religious viewpoint without burdening the narrative and ends at a hopeful juncture. Freimuth’s award-winning novel will elicit equal parts of empathy and anguish from readers who have shared closely in the life of someone with schizophrenia or other serious mental illness.

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