Panic-stricken by the news that she needs exploratory surgery, forty-eight-year-old Mercy Beth Fanjoy drafts a monumental “to do” list and sets about putting her messy life in order. Among other things (hide the vibrator!), she’s determined to finally uncover the identity of her secret admirer; reconnect with a lost friend and rival Teeny Gaudet; and, most importantly, get her hands on the note her father left her before committing suicide all those years ago. But tidying up the edges of her life means the past comes rushing back to haunt her and the present keeps throwing up more to do’s. Between fits of weeping and laughter, ranting and bliss, Mercy must contemplate the meaning of life in the face of her own death. In a week filled with the riot of an entire life, nothing turns out the way she’d expected.
Paperback, 312 pages
Published July 2nd 2008 by Vagrant Publishing
I borrowed this book from the library on a whim because I needed a paperback to take with me on an overseas vacation, and this looked like a light read.
The opening scene finds Mercy in her doctor’s office, learning that she must have exploratory surgery because of a lump she has found in her abdomen. The reader is taken back and forth between Mercy’s interaction with her wizened old doctor, and the inner monologue running through her mind, leaving the impression frankly that she is a bit of a lunatic.
I generally prefer to feel that the characters I’m reading about are realistic, and I didn’t really feel that about Mercy after reading the first chapter. No one is that really that wacky, right? But a small voice inside me recalled some of the insane ramblings of my OWN inner monologue, and I told myself to just try to enjoy a story about a woman whose inner voice just sometimes bursts out. Because don’t we all wish we could let out the inner crazy sometimes? After I got over that hump, I really started to enjoy this novel.
The book is set in a fictional Canadian east coast town called Odell, which I’ve since read online is actually a very obvious reference to Fredericton, New Brunswick. Not knowing Fredericton very well I didn’t recognize it, but many other readers seemed pretty certain that the towns are one and the same. One reviewer even said it was so obviously Fredericton that she felt like she could trace Mercy’s movements throughout the city on a map!
Most of the story is actually set during the one week leading up to Mercy’s surgery. She has immediately set herself a ‘To Do’ list of everything she feels she must accomplish before she dies and throughout the week she goes along either accomplishing, amending, or crossing things off her list. How she crams so much into each and every day is a bit of a minor miracle, and while much of it is humourous there are also some poignant scenes interwoven as well. What really hit home for me were some of the more mundane things on Mercy’s list, and some of the things she worries about while she ponders her own death. She determines to clean out her dresser drawers, for instance, because she is embarrassed to think about her mother and daughter having to do it after she is dead. Aren’t these the small details that really horrify us all about death?
In the end, I found this book enjoyable and well written. It’s not a classic by any means, but a fairly light and easy read with a few laughs and some emotional insight woven in for good measure.