Monday, 3 October 2016

Between Buddha and the Bible: The Mercy Journals

The Mercy JournalsThe Mercy Journals by Claudia Casper
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Four and a half stars

The book opens with a brief explanatory prologue: In 2072, these journals have been found next to the human remains of an adult male, a pistol and a cougar. The journals begin in the year 2047, after a third of humanity has died off due to war, ecological collapse and a flu pandemic. There’s a new world order where the state has much more control of its citizens, doling out rations for food, power and data. The younger generation find that they like this socialist lifestyle and are angered by those who still insist on being wasteful and greedy, while a murky resistance group criticizes the state.

Our hero and writer of the journals is Allen Quincy, a war veteran who is almost permanently holed up in his apartment fighting PTSD. He comes back to life when he meets the singer and dancer, Ruby. They quickly become lovers. She, herself, is dealing with the damage from the past; her performances are an exorcism of that time because she is “afraid we’ll stop the process of destroying and tearing down too soon. We need to keep going if we’re going to break through to something truly different” (99).

Quincy began to write these journals in his own attempt at obliteration. He reads a quote from Socrates that “[w]riting destroys memory” (17) and so he describes his world in an attempt to rid himself of his taunting PTSD visions. These visions stem from a calamitous army tour defending the border after Mexico ran out of water. From his time there, he earned the nickname, Mercy.

The book is made up of two parts: Journal One is a meditation on writing and memory. When recording the first time he met Ruby, Quincy realizes that his writing may be “accurate but [he still] left so much out. The part is made to stand for the whole, and then the part becomes the whole” (151).

In Journal Two, the book becomes a thriller. I found that answers to questions about characters are left implied, so that you can let your imagination get away with itself. The re-entry of Quincy’s brother Leo into the story creates a tension; Leo’s actions are underscored by incredible malice. Language becomes a slippery thing. Where once Quincy wrote to forget, around Leo he is hesitant to ask questions because “asking was a submissive act; it left you waiting for an answer, vulnerable to a lie” (222).

Like in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Canada is seen to be some sort of haven: the place Americans escape to. Quincy, Leo and Leo’s stepson, Griffith head up to Vancouver Island where their family had a cottage named Nirvana. The band is mentioned a couple of time, as well as Buddhist philosophy. There’s also the paradigm of Cain and Abel and talk of beginning a “new covenant” (228). Ostensibly, they are there to find Quincy’s lost sons, as Leo has reported that they have been spotted. They go deeper into the forest, and away from what they knew as civilization.

Initially, I found myself comparing The Mercy Journals to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road - sparse writing style, limited punctuation and almost as bleak. There’s also a little bit of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness when journeying up the river and having to deal with Kurtz.

Claudia Casper’s writing and observations are exquisite. The split nature of the novel (part meditation, part thriller) may bother some readers, but the book made me think and kept me wanting to read past my bedtime.

There’s something about dystopian novels that I really like: Station Eleven, Hunger Games. My husband hates them: He says they’re too dark. Maybe I am a pessimist of the highest order. But I find these kinds of books are ultimately about faith in humanity - how low we can go and still survive.

The Mercy Journals is highly recommended.

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