"The Unraveling of Mercy Louis: A Novel"

Feb 12, 2016

On this edition of ST, we learn about a novel called "The Unraveling of Mercy Louis," which has just recently appeared in paperback. Our guest is the author, Keija Parssinen, who grew up in Saudi Arabia and Texas before graduating from Princeton University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Parssinen is now an assistant professor of English at the University of Tulsa, and she tells us about the themes, experiences, and ideas that led to the creation of this (her second) novel. As was noted of this work in a starred review from Kirkus: "[Here is] a modern Southern gothic with a feminist edge and the tense pacing of a thriller.... Port Sabine, Texas: an economically depressed oil refinery town on the Gulf, heavy with gossip and religious superstition. With a fatal explosion at the refinery still lingering in the residents' collective memory, they turn their focus to Mercy Louis, the star of the high school girls basketball team. Mercy knows how good she is, and in her private way, basketball is her religion, but she must hide this from her caretaker grandmother, Evelia, a fierce evangelical. Evelia's vision for, and of, her granddaughter is narrow; Mercy knows she has to be twice as pious as any other girl to make up for her absentee, crack-addict mother and be saved with her grandmother in the approaching rapture. In another corner of town, Illa Stark chafes in the ongoing role of nurse to her mother, a badly burned victim of the refinery explosion who has since mostly given up on life. Illa is more at peace as the manager of the girls basketball team, and she watches Mercy from afar with a hopeful tenderness. Meanwhile, the discovery of a fetus in a town dumpster has emotions in Port Sabine running hot and especially emphasizes the disempowerment of the town's young women.... It's interesting to watch these moments of heightened awareness play up against the gothic structure. Mercy is every bit the innocent, blindly reliant on her grandmother and her basketball coach as pressures pile up on her, summer wears on and her relationships shift in distressing ways.... [This book is] beautiful and awful, enraging and sad, atmospheric and page-turning: an accomplished novel."