Genevieve Graham reviews a confident novel that offers insights into the human condition
Colin Sweets Arsenault
Short Mercy is a beautifully crafted, delightful detour into the uncertain dark side of a very ordinary, very unimaginative man en route to a half-hearted attempt at self-discovery.
Jim Short runs an ancient, mostly forgotten used bookstore in the town of Hethering, Nova Scotia. His store and an old video rental shop are the only two left on the block, but he’s rejected the sensible idea of moving to a street with better foot traffic. The store has always been here, and here it shall stay.
Jim Short’s life lacks zing. It lacks energy. Really, it lacks life.
That is, until a masked robber shakes everything up and unintentionally triggers a road trip in which Jim will ride shotgun in a getaway car with the town’s renowned “rule-rejecting, ambition-lacking kid,” Mackenzie White.
The 17-year-old high school dropout has the opposite problem from Jim’s: her unfounded belief that her now-deceased, loner grandfather was actually the town’s legendary, black-masked outlaw and that he had expected her to carry on in his name, has created a reckless agitator. An unlikely bond forms between Jim and Mac during the strange, week-long journey, and both are surprised to learn just how much that friendship means and matters.
The confident, obviously intelligent voice of Colin Sweets Arsenault enchanted me from the opening sentence, and it only got better. The book is narrated via brilliant, unapologetically straightforward insights into the flaws and farcical truths of the human condition. These are so well delivered that I read the book in one very enjoyable sitting.