The Shape of Mercy: the Salem Witch Trials

Note from Christa: As a teacher of American Literature for almost twenty years, having taught Arthur Miller’s The Crucible almost every one of those years, I was intrigued by the idea of this novel before I even knew I’d have a chance to review it. My students have a difficult time wrapping their brains around the fact the Salem witchcraft trials weren’t fiction; that real people experienced horrific deaths due to “spectral evidence” fueled by fear. Susan’s use of Mercy’s diary as the centerpiece of the novel makes the tragedy personal, gives it a name. Truly a work that I can recommend to my students.



Lauren Durough is a college student longing to break free of family expectations when she stumbles into a project for eighty year old Abigail Boyles-transcribing the journals of Mercy Hayworth, a seventeenth-century victim of the Massachusetts witch trials. Almost immediately, Lauren finds herself drawn to this girl who lived and died four centuries ago. The strength of her affinity with Mercy forces Lauren to take a startling new look at her own life, including her relationships with the mysterious Abigail, her college roommate, and a young man named Raul. But on the way to discovering the candid truth, Lauren must earnestly ask if she is playing the role of helpless defendant or the misguided judge? Can she break free from her own perceptions and recognize who she really is?

In our high-pressure, success-oriented culture, readers will identify with Lauren’s struggle to forge her own identity separate from the plan her family designed for her. Offering intrigue, romance, and heartbreaking drama, this contemporary novel with a historical twist conveys the intense beauty that emerges when we see how our stories affect the lives of others.

Praise for The Shape of Mercy:

“Meissner’s newest novel is potentially life-changing, the kind of inspirational fiction that prompts readers to call up old friends, lost loves or fallen-away family members to tell them that all is forgiven and that life is too short for holding grudges. Achingly romantic, the novel features the legacy of Mercy Hayworth-a young woman convicted during the Salem witch trials-whose words reach out from the past to forever transform the lives of two present-day women. These book lovers-Abigail Boyles, elderly, bitter and frail, and Lauren “Lars” Durough, wealthy, earnest and young-become unlikely friends, drawn together over the untimely death of Mercy, whose precious diary is all that remains of her too short life. And what a diary! Mercy’s words not only beguile but help Abigail and Lars together face life’s hardest struggles about where true meaning is found, which dreams are worth chasing and which only lead to emptiness, and why faith and hope are essential on life’s difficult path. Meissner’s prose is exquisite, and she is a stunning storyteller. This is a novel to be shared with friends.”

Starred Review, Publishers Weekly

“Insights… are stunning”
“Meissner has a gift for intriguing, meaningful stories, and this novel is no exception. Lauren’s present-day life is mirrored in elderly Abigail’s and again in the diary of Mercy Hayworth, who lived in the 17th century. The spiritual content is light, but the insights into perception and prejudice are stunning.”

Romantic Times Magazine, 4 ½ stars

“The concept behind The Shape of Mercy stayed with me long after I finished it, which was nearly a year ago. And I know why it did. I am guilty of the weakness Lauren my protagonist had to discover – and admit – about herself. She, like me, like so many, judge better than we love. And we let fear dictate how much love we will extend and to whom we will extend it. Not always, not in every circumstance. But it happens often enough to know I might’ve easily kept my quivering mouth shut had I lived in Salem in 1692. I can’t see myself accusing my innocent neighbor of bewitching me, but I might’ve said nothing – out of fear for my own life -when someone else did the finger-pointing. And I might’ve said nothing still when the Village marched to Gallows Hill to watch the accused hang. We tend to fear what we can’t comprehend. And we tend to understand only what we want to.

There is a shimmering ray of hope, however. And it actually permeated all of 1692 Salem, though it hasn’t garnered the same spotlight as the delusions of frightened and empowered people. The innocents who were hanged as witches refused to confess an allegiance to the Devil. Refused to the point of death. I find that remarkable and magnificent. It fills me with hope to consider that while we have the capacity to judge when we should show mercy, we also have the capacity to embrace Truth for all we’re worth – even if it means we give up everything for it.

It wasn’t all darkness and deception in 1692 Salem. There was light there, too. It flickered every time the noose was pulled tight on the throat of one who would not give up on God and everything holy and good.

This book isn’t a book about the Trials, just a contemporary look at what they teach us.

And so it begins; my little roving commentary on the things we must learn from our weaker moments in history.”

From early school-day projects to becoming editor of a local newspaper in Minnesota, Susan Meissner’s love for writing has been apparent her entire life. The Shape of Mercy is her latest novel in a string of books that delve into the deeper issues of life. She is the author of nine novels and lives with her family in San Diego, California. Find out more about her at

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4 thoughts on “The Shape of Mercy: the Salem Witch Trials

  1. Pingback: Haunted History Haunted Histories Collection Hauntings Vampire Secrets Salem Witch Trails The Haunted History of Halloween Poltergeist History Channel |

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