Synopses & Reviews
When Robin Romm's The Mother Garden
was published, the New York Times Book Review
called her a close-up magician, saying, hers is the oldest kind of magic] we know: the ordinary incantation of words and stories to help us navigate the darkness and finally to hold the end at bay. In her searing memoir The Mercy Papers
, Romm uses this magic to expand the weeks before her mother's death into a story about a daughter in the moments before and after loss.
With a striking mix of humor and honesty, Romm ushers us into a world where an obstinate hospice nurse tries to heal through pamphlets and a yelping grandfather squirrels away money in a shoe-shine kit. Untrained dogs scamper about as strangers and friends rally around death, offering sympathy as they clamor for attention. The pillbox turns quickly into a metaphor for order; questions about medication turn to musings about God. The mundane and spiritual melt together as Romm reveals the sharp truths that lurk around every corner and captures, with great passion, the awe, fear, and fury of a daughter losing her mother.
The Mercy Papers was started in the midst of heartbreak, and not originally intended for an audience. The result is a raw, unsentimental book that reverberates with humanity. Robin Romm has created a tribute to family and an indelible portrait that will speak to anyone who has ever loved and lost.
"In this powerful narrative, author Romm (The Mother Garden) chronicles the weeks before her mother's death, drawing from it the story of her long years spent battling and eventually succumbing to cancer. In elegant prose, Romm celebrates their strong relationship and finds ways to cope, but doesn't flinch from exploring her darker feelings: rage at abandonment, resentment toward her physician father, frustration with a well-meaning but ineffectual boyfriend. The sad reality unreels in elegant prose and precise metaphors; hospice worker Barb 'administers more morphine, more Percocet, more fentanyl... building a boat to sail my mother out.' Originally begun as a personal journal-not for publication-Romm's heartbreak is writ large and clear, as are the details of her mother's painful end and her family's struggle to cope ('we've all been placed at the mercy of her disease... it's trapped us in this house'). Anyone touched by cancer, or who has seen a loved one in hospice care, will find this painful, absorbing and likely therapeutic; unfortunately, the story peters out once Romm's mother passes, leaving her readers, perhaps on purpose, unmistakably empty." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"With artfulness, candor and unexpected but welcome wit, Romm tells their mother/daughter story through nine years of flashbacks since Jackie's diagnosis at 46, when Romm was 19.... The raw honesty of this book may be as healing to read as it must have been to write." Elizabeth Fishel, San Francisco Chronicle
"Romm's sheer firepower sets her [memoir] apart, capturing all the raw messiness behind her agony. Grade: A." Tina Jordan, Entertainment Weekly
"Poignant... A piercing, heartbreaking reminder that 'loss doesn't end.'" Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"A furious blaze of a book." Leah Hager Cohen, New York Times Book Review
"Robin Romm takes on the hardest subject (the death of a person you can't live without) the hardest way (no easy answers, no gratuitous nod toward redemption, and not a whisper of sentimentality). Only a very fine writer could create this slam dance of sorrow, rage, helplessness, and laugh-out-loud humor; a book that is unapologetically raw and undeniably artful at once." Pam Houston
"The Mercy Papers is an important work in a young voice. It speaks truth to complacency. But its perspective remains the narrow one of a child." Karen R. Long, Cleveland Plain Dealer
About the Author
Robin Romm is the author of the critically acclaimed short story collection, The Mother Garden, which was a finalist for the 2008 PEN USA Fiction Award. Born and raised in Eugene, Oregon, she currently lives in Berkeley, California, and New Mexico, where she is assistant professor of creative writing and literature at the College of Santa Fe.