Read Under the Mercy Trees by Heather Newton Online


Newton delivers a stirring debut novel told from the perspectives of four central characters embroiled in a family drama that spans generations and is riddled with defensive secrecy and emotional penury in equal measure. After the disappearance of Leon Owenby, his younger brother and central narrator, Martin, returns to the family’s Willoby County, N.C., mountain town fromNewton delivers a stirring debut novel told from the perspectives of four central characters embroiled in a family drama that spans generations and is riddled with defensive secrecy and emotional penury in equal measure. After the disappearance of Leon Owenby, his younger brother and central narrator, Martin, returns to the family’s Willoby County, N.C., mountain town from his life as a destitute writer in New York City to aid in the search for Leon and support his other siblings. The year is 1986; Martin leaves behind his ex-lover, Dennis, and their many friends sick and dying from AIDS. Back home, he must face his painful past, his extended family to whom he is closeted, and his high school girlfriend (who still carries a torch for him). Many months of searching reveal more about the searchers than about Leon; the secrets and resentments in the Owenby family run deep and bubble to the surface unexpectedly. It’s problematic that with so many family issues coming to light, Martin’s sexuality is ignored and remains a secret, but Newton’s use of multiple viewpoints and distinct voices is adept and lively, and helps to fill in the thin premise of Leon’s disappearance. With many novels of this construction, a reader tends to favor one voice over the rest. Not so here; Newton delivers across the board with these characters, who run the gamut from perky to depressive, desperate to schizophrenic....

Title : Under the Mercy Trees
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780062001344
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 352 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Under the Mercy Trees Reviews

  • Allison
    2019-05-22 11:18

    For more info about upcoming books, visit my site: www.pre-reads.comNo spoilers ever! In the rural (fictional) town of Solace Forks, North Carolina, death and birth are the only events that can draw the Owensby family to share the same space. In Heather Newton’s lovely debut novel, her deeply flawed characters are not loveable or pitiable. But they are undeniably poignant. This is not a novel of young love and happy endings. The majority of her characters are eligible for the senior discount at the local Bojangles and share one thing in common. They are deeply dissatisfied but resigned to their lives. The disappearance of Leon Owensby provides a backdrop to the joining and breaking of bonds between the members of his family. While the word “mystery” is used in early synopses of this book, the connotations associated with this word choice conjure unjust expectations. This is no paperback thriller with a neat conclusion. This is not a mystery novel. If anything, the characters are laid bare, whether past, present, missing or dead. They are raw and rough, tangled hopelessly in their family roots. Although Ms. Newton is from Raleigh, it is clear through her vivid perception that she is more than familiar with the small mountain towns in her home state. She peoples her story with salt-of-the-earth folk who might appear simple to someone more refined. However, they are anything but.Martin Owensby has escaped the small town that threatened to suck him into an endlessly simple life of farming and family discord. Through seamlessly transitioned flashbacks, Newton shows the stunning contrast between the young and idealistic and the older selves who have lost their illusions about life. Martin left Solace Forks with aspirations to be a playwright. Decades later, his career petered out before it began. When his brother, Leon, is reported as missing, he reluctantly journeys home to the people and places he spent his life avoiding. Having hidden his homosexuality from his conservative family and friends, he dreads facing those he sought to forget.In Solace Forks, we meet a cast of characters whose dreams have long dissipated. Throughout the novel, Newton reveals their losses and heartbreak with elegant metaphors and imagery. Liza, Martin’s high school sweetheart, has never learned to stop loving him despite the futility. His brother James and wife Bertie have resigned themselves to a marriage lacking in intimacy. Martin’s sister Ivy, who sees ghosts, is more haunted by the loss of years with her three children, who were taken into foster care. Although two of her children are devoted to her in adulthood, she can never forget the third, who was irreparably damaged. Locked together by blood and marriage, the large Owensby clan fights, unable to let go of the what-ifs that stain their lives. Martin’s journey is the centerpiece as he learns to accept his family and connect who he his to who he thought he would be. Newton lightly weaves the issues of alcoholism, adultery, child abuse and homophobia throughout the book. The apt name of the town, Solace Fork, speaks not only of sorrow and choices but also of healing. The title embodies the inhabitants’ search for a seemingly irretrievable peace and forgiveness – whether from a lost loved one, a spouse or God. Heather Newton does not take the easy formulaic path of Character A + Character B + Forgotten Love = Happily Ever After. The deep issues in the novel are not so easily resolved. Her writing and descriptions are authentic and touching. While you don’t always like her characters, you feel their dilemmas and wish along with them for second chances. Overall, the book was well written, captivating and worthy of praise. If it is not buried in an avalanche of new releases, Under the Mercy Trees has the chance be a true standout work of literature when it hits shelves on January 18th, 2011.

  • Pavarti Tyler
    2019-05-10 16:13

    Under the Mercy Trees by Heather Newton is not easy to characterize. I think Southern Literary Fiction would be the best description, but if that was on a book shelf I would have never picked it up!  Which would be a tragedy.  Newton has created a full world filled with fascinating and distinct characters.  While it's a fluid read issues of mental health, abuse, homophobia, love and family are dealt with head on.  You aren't spared the painful details of the character's inner demons.At first I thought the book was about Martin, and as you read the description and even other reviews, perhaps it is.  But to me the book was about Ivy.  Each chapter is written from a different point of view (clearly marked and stylistically in character at all times, really great writing there).  However the entire book is written in third person except for Ivy's.  Perhaps this is because of her particular brand of crazy.  She sees and hears ghosts so vividly, at times she forgets who is alive and who is dead.  This is easier to relate to via the first person because you are so deeply within her personal experiences.  However as the story goes on and generations linger long after they die, it seems Ivy's story of regret is the underlining truth.Under the Mercy Trees: A Novel is set primarily in 1986.  Back stories and personal histories go back fifty years easily, but the primary plot is set in the late 80s.  With the main character being gay in a time of deep closeting and AIDS it is easy for authors to slip into stereotypes and outlines of characters instead of real people.  Newton has expertly navigated the truth behind some of those stereotypes, allowing people to be as they truly are, while maintaining their individuality.There are a few brilliant lines I'd love to quote for you, but was so engaged in reading I didn't bother to jot them down.  So you'll have to trust me that the language is both authentically cultural for the south and striking in it's beauty.  Under the Mercy Trees: A Novel made me want to be a better writer.

  • Patrick Cumby
    2019-05-17 15:35

    Heather Newton has written a remarkable novel that plunges deep into the hearts and souls of a family as they struggle to deal with the disappearance of one of their own. Leon Owensby lived alone in the dilapidated home-place, a hard, taciturn man, like his father before him, with no apparent ambition other than to be left alone. But it hadn't always been so. Leon had once burned with a secret desire that had almost torn the family apart. And the ghost of that desire threatens the family once again now that Leon is missing and presumed dead. Like all great Southern stories, real or imagined, this one is filled with longing, regret, and the stifling pressure of a culture that prevents its victims from being their true selves.I was struck by the authenticity of the characters Newton portrays; if you grew up in the South, especially in the southern Appalachians, you will recognize these people, trapped in a shared reality of poverty and ignorance that few escape. Even those that do manage to leave the fold, like Martin Owensby, Leon's younger brother who went away to college, can never truly recover from the scars of his raising.Newton does a masterful job of drawing you into the family, slowly revealing the secrets of the story in alternating chapters from each character's point of view. Each of the characters is a fully-realized human being, and the relationships between them are both discordant and unbreakable. Read this book for the people that fill it, accompany them on their journey as they struggle to find a new equilibrium after the disappearance of one of their own. I highly recommend Under the Mercy Trees to anyone who enjoys compelling, character-based fiction.

  • Julie
    2019-05-04 18:22

    I love a good drama, and this one was surely that. The eloquent writing style of this author makes it hard to believe this is her debut book. The imagery and wonderfully descriptive style of this story made it a true delight to read.As the story progressed, somewhat slowly at times, I found myself becoming very attached to the Owenby family. Each family member was flawed in some way and you couldn't help as a reader, to become invested in their lives. While the entire lot of characters were dysfunctional, as a whole they seemed to mesh and they all played an integral part in each other's lives and in the story itself. What I especially admired was that by the end of the story they were, for the most part, able to come to terms with their own lives and achieve some sort of peace of mind.While the overall tone of the story was sad and depressing, it didn't take away from my reading enjoyment. Let's face it, not everything works out all the time, and it was refreshing to read a story that allowed for this bit of reality.

  • Joan Plotnick
    2019-05-20 17:11

    I was surprised by how good this book was. I got it because a local bookstore was moving the next day and was selling the few volumes it had left for $2-$5. This "$2 book" was in the N.C. writers section. I had never heard of the author and it was her first book (though she was published in some NC magazines). I was surprised and delighted by an excellent story with magnificent characters told in beautiful prose. I can't imagine anyone not liking this book.

  • Jael
    2019-04-29 10:18

    How long can you run from your past? Weeks? Months? Years? How long can you ignore the truth before you are forced to face it? Fear, shame and self-loathing no longer work. There comes a time eventually when you have to face the past. Several characters in Under the Mercy Trees by Heather Newton are running from their pasts. A tragedy within the Owenby family of Solace Fork, N.C., forces everything to the surface.It's 1986, and Martin, the youngest of the Owenby family, learns that his older brother Leon has disappeared. Martin must now leave the cocoon of his New York City apartment. Martin left Solace Fork, a town so small only five people were in his high school graduating class, decades ago. Instead he is drowning in debt and alcohol. As a gay man, Martin could never truly be himself around his family. In such a small town there is no one like him. His long-suffering childhood friend and semi-girlfriend Liza knows the truth, but only after years of denying it to herself. Once home, only alcohol can quiet the noise coming from the mouths of his relatives. While someone in Martin's shoes would be afraid of family finding out his secret, he seems more afraid of people discovering his drinking. With the exception of his niece Trina and nephew Steven, Martin feels the need to drink in secret. As if that makes it better, the alcohol is merely masking his problems.Liza has moved on physically, having married and had two daughters, but over the years there were still unanswered questions. Was Martin the one? Why did he reject her advances? Why does he always disappoint her when she needs him the most? In turn, why does she always forgive him?Martin's sister Eugenia feels like it's her job to be the family's moral compass. She's so judgmental Martin is even afraid to turn down Eugenia's invitation to dinner. I'm sure we all have relatives like that! Brother James is a hard one to figure out at first. He doesn't speak much, including with his wife Bertie, unless prompted. But as the layers of their marriage are peeled away, there is more than meets the eye. A long ago betrayal by Bertie comes to light. How do they move on? Can they move on?Another sister Ivy is the "crazy" one of the family. Her children, Shane, Steven and Trina went in and out of foster care. She hears voices and speaks to ghosts. When she narrates, Ivy sounds very scatter-brained, especially when talking about simple things like laundry. However, when speaking about her deceased son Shane, Ivy sounds very sane and lucid. The pain and grief is very concrete, and it's easier to express those feelings.After a while, Leon's disappearance fades to the background. The family drama takes over. Newton does give you glimpses into Leon's character, but I was more invested in the rest of his family. Leon sounded like a big bully, with moments of kindness mixed in. Martin is a sympathetic and tortured soul. You wish he would give up the alcohol, but can understand why he won't. If you don't feel like you belong, you have to do something to mask the pain. In her youth, Liza pined after Martin, you wish she wouldn't but can understand. The one that got away is often hard to resist. A betrayal at the hands of Leon and his friends, turn Ivy into someone else. She seems to like being in a state of manic confusion.Sometimes it was hard to keep track of the Owenby family tree, so you might want to take notes. This a complex family drama, but one worth discovering.Rating: SuperbNotes: I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more on author Heather Newton, visit:

  • Mary Moore
    2019-05-18 15:33

    I didn't grow up in the North Carolina mountains, but reading this novel set in those hills leaves me feeling homesick. At its heart, this novel--written decades after the classic NC-mountain novel, LOOK HOMEWARD ANGEL--is about leaving home, losing the people we love, and whether it's possible to go back. These themes are played out with a superb cast of characters, and the story is told with wisdom, insight, and with quietly beautiful language. Primarily set in the late 1980s, the novel is built around the disappearance of a man named Leon Owenby, and the story is told through alternating points of view of the Owenby family and others close to the family. Normally, I get impatient with this kind of structure because I end up favoring one character and don't want to hear from the others, but Heather Newton pulls off the magical feat of making all of the characters genuine and compelling. Newton takes her time telling this story, and I wasn't hooked immediately. But after a few chapters, I could feel the Owenbys getting under my skin. This book makes me nostalgic for this kind of old-fashioned literary novel -- that is, a book where the use of language is high art and the story has real depth. I think most serious readers will love this book, and any serious writer will learn from it.

  • Rachel Ireland
    2019-04-28 18:11

    "I am not sure how to really go into this review. I both liked it and disliked it. I disliked it because it was such a long story that was drug out too much, at times. I liked it, however, because this first time author really shows talent and created a complex, dramatic story that is life like and filled with characters who have flaws. Not fake-y stuff. Simple, normal, and even dysfunctional flaws. That's what brings out the complexity of the novel." I actually stole this review from someone else because it matched my feeling exactly. I could not fall in love with any of the characters, yet I found myself enjoying one or two of them from time to time. I would read more from this author... the era and storytelling kept me interested even when the characters turned me off.

  • Megan
    2019-05-13 17:08

    Could not finish. I got bored with the family stories. I wanted something more. This book failed to keep my attention.

  • Fonda Quinn
    2019-05-13 11:11

    Good. Read it for the book club. Looking forward to the discussion and hearing other opinions.

  • Sandra Norman
    2019-05-18 17:33

    This book grabbed me right away and I could not put it down. Stayed up late reading, woke early to finish, then wished I'd savored it. Will read it again - to appreciate the beautiful writing. Loved the multiple voices in which the story is told. I was blown away by the ending, did not see it coming, which is unusual. Looking forward to more from Heather Newton.

  • Jessica
    2019-05-06 11:20


  • Marika Alexander
    2019-05-05 10:25

    Beautiful atmospheric writing, folksy dialogue, people coming to terms with their ghosts, and the complicated webs woven by family. Somewhat predictable at times, but an enjoyable read nonetheless.

  • Anna
    2019-04-27 13:23

    I read this book in three days (would have read it straight through if I'd had the uninterrupted time). There are five adult siblings in the Owenby family of Solace Fork, NC (rural, mountain community where "you can't swing a dead cat without hitting an Owenby"), one of whom goes missing, and one of whom--long-gone prodigal son--returns home. The story unfolds in four masterfully controlled points of view, and by the end of the book, it was clear to me why the author chose the voices she did, and why some characters were not narrators. This book is in one sense a mystery, although finding out "who-dunnit" is not what carries the reader almost compulsively through to the is those individual stories. I simply had to know what was going to happen to Martin--on the one hand, unsympathetic (broke, out of work, unmotivated except to buy Scotch)--but also a man of great feeling. He's wounded but has a strange compassion for his relatives. He hasn't been able to come out to anyone in Solace Fork as gay, and has chosen instead to stay away from them. Liza--the main narrator--for many years has pined for Martin, not realizing on a conscious level that he is gay. She is deeply shaken by her father's death, and becomes disconnected with her husband, a good man; as a reader, I wanted her to know what a rich and fulfilled life she has, with two healthy daughters and a loving hunk of a husband. Then there's "crazy" Ivy, who may by book's end, seem the sanest of them all. She became so dear to me, and I found it fitting that she was quite important to the story's conclusion...also makes me want to be more sympathetic next time I hear of someone being labeled psychotic or schizophrenic. There are so many more stories...Bertie, whose almost accidental infidelity becomes understandable, so much so that I hoped for forgiveness from her husband. Eugenia...well, don't get me started...I never did come to like her, but the author skillfully helped me to see why Eugenia was the way she was. Ditto for Leon...couldn't believe I ultimately empathized with him. There are also characters readers love to hate--Bobby & Cherise (ugh), who fulfill their reason for being, but are never nice.The way the story unfolds is another strength of this novel, and a sign of a sure-handed writer. We'll be in the middle of a present-day narration when a character's thought will lead to a masterfully revealed back story. Neither does Newton fall into the trap that catches less adept writers...not every character's story comes to a certain conclusion. When you've read this book, you'll see that it would have come close to boring if all the stories had been brought to a neat end. And boring is a word that cannot be applied to anything about this amazing piece of work. I look forward to more from Heather Newton.

  • Sara Strand
    2019-05-25 12:09

    It really is a slow read. But when I finished it, I was glad I did because all of these characters pull at you. Not just Martin and Liza (the girl who loved him), but all of the Owenby family. They are all screwed up in their own right but each one has a story. This is one of the rare books that completes the story of all of the character. Oftentimes when you have a book that each chapter focuses on a different character's point of view, somebody's story gets lost in the shuffle and it doesn't quite finish how it should. This one pulls it off beautifully. What I loved about it is that it's really relevant to today even though the story is back a few years and it all starts in the late 50's/early 60's. Think of where our country was on topics such as adultery, homosexuality, and family duty. It's a completely different scenario today... but not really. Martin's story as a young boy discovering he isn't like other boys and although he loves Liza... it's not the same way that she loves him. She plans a future with him and he feels terrible, but he knows he would be breaking her heart no matter what. So his life goes into a tailspin. Which makes me think of all of the kids who are killing themselves by being taunted based on their sexuality, they could be Martin. Martin could be them. You root for Martin through the whole book because you know he has the potential- he just has to be shown that it's ok to be a failure in some rights. It's not the end of the world and life will move on. The story also touches on mental illness as we perceive it. One of Martin's sisters sees ghosts and she talks to them, sometimes she forgets others can hear her. Everyone of course assumes she's crazy but it's tragic. She suffers tremendous loss in her life with the loss of her children so to speak, and it makes you think of all the people we automatically label as crazy. Overall, I loved the book. I liked how it tied social issues in with real people and it was believable. I liked how the author shows you the same issues but in two different time periods and you see how time has really changed not just people but the issues themselves. You root for these characters and the ending was something that I never saw coming. Usually I can figure out the ending of the "who done it" but wow- that was not what I was expecting at all. And the ending, tragic as it is, feels like the way it should have ended. It feels like all of the characters are then able to move on past early traumas and into their futures. Which isn't giving you any information about the story really- you'll have to read it to understand it. :)

  • Zoë
    2019-05-04 11:21

    Under the Mercy Trees by Heather Newton begins when Leon Owenby goes missing. His brother, Martin, returns to the family farm in Solace Fork, North Carolina after decades in New York City to help look for his brother. Martin left with dreams of becoming a writer, but finds his life centered around booze and flings with men. Returning to the Owenby farm means encountering the demons of his past, including Liza, the girl who's heart he broke. Under the Mercy Trees alternates in perspective between Martin, Liza, as well as Martin's sister, Ivy who sees ghosts, as well as his sister-in-law Bertie who left his brother James for four days several decades ago a mistake which has never been forgotten. Each of these characters, as well as Ivy's children, Bertie and James' children, and Liza's husband, are developed and unique, and each of them has their own struggles to be overcome.Although the story develops leisurely at times, Newton's language is so beautiful that I hardly minded, finding myself immersed in the world she had created. The mystery and family secrets the novel contains are revealed throughout the novel, as the past of the characters is a tangled web that Newton slowly unweaves. The imagery in Under the Mercy Trees is incredibly beautiful and powerful, and the reader is easily taken into the Owenby world of a rural Southern town as they fall under Newton's spell. Newton takes on a complex and vast number of issues through the Owenby family, including alcoholism, homosexuality, first love, the meaning of family, infidelity, marriage, suicide and a mother's love for her children. Despite the wide scope of Under the Mercy Trees, each issue is addressed with the maturity and thoughtfulness that makes the novel so successful. Under the Mercy Trees is a stunning and incredible debut, and I have purposefully kept my description of the novel vague because this is a gem best which is best discovered by the reader as it unfolds. Newton never resorts to gimmick, and I found myself completely surprised and heartbroken by the ending. The characters in the novel are flawed and human, and the lessons they learn can be universally applied. I also think it would make a great novel for a discussion group or book club due to the number of issues the book addresses. Under the Mercy Trees is a complex and powerful debut, but it is not a book to be read in a rush, it is best enjoyed if the reader allows themselves to become fully immersed in the realistic and beautifully described world Newton has created.

  • Holly Weiss
    2019-05-20 13:06

    Inspired by an incident in her husband’s family, debut author Heather Newton explores human regret, broken relationships and loss of family communication in Under the Mercy Trees, a January 18, 2011 paperback release from Harper Publishing.During her childhood, Ms. Newton and her siblings played on a tree which looked much like an elephant trunk, believing it was magical. The book’s title, Under the Mercy Trees, is reminiscent of those trees ravaged by Hurricane Hazel. The trees survived but grew mangled and askew, much like Ms. Newton’s characters. With stellar craftsmanship, the author delves into difficult family issues. Character rather than plot driven, the novel is dark and honest. The author moves fluidly between numerous voices and points of view. We sympathize with her characters and long for them to find healing.Set in small-town Solace Fork, North Carolina in the 1950s and 1980s, the plot of Under the Mercy Trees centers around the disappearance of sixty-five-year- old Leon Owenby, eldest of five siblings. Newton’s characters stand in the autumn of their lives, disillusioned and resigned to their existences. They dance to a stinging tune of sibling abuse, molestation, homophobia, intolerance and suicide. Some find redemption in their relationships with each other and God. Others sit isolated—as Newton describes— “like a broken desk waiting to be taken out with the trash,” longing for a morsel of the solace for which their town is named.Liza, high-school girlfriend to youngest sibling, Martin, aptly articulates the premise of the novel. Upon considering the trees, she asks, “Did they remember the trauma that bent them, or had they gotten on with things?”Although the swarm of characters may overwhelm the reader at first, their dilemmas are gripping and honest. Bitterness breeds in the Owenby family, but welcome hints of healing enrich the novel, like a hymn sung during a baptism: “There is a calm, a sure retreat;‘Tis found beneath the mercy seat.”Ms. Newton astounds by revealing the damage done by lack of communication between family members whose dreams are long gone. Under the Mercy Trees is a brave examination of a family we may publicly shun, but secretly fear might be our own. An impressive first novel recommended for those who appreciate character studies and family dramas.I thank Harper Collins for supplying me with this review copy. The opinions expressed are unbiased and wholly my own.Reviewed by Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont

  • Judi Anne
    2019-05-18 13:35

    The Owenbys are simple country people who live in a western North Carolina mountain town. Except for Martin, they don't have and mostly don't want connection with the outside world. They spend most of their time absorbed in minding each other's business. The story is centered around five siblings, Leon, the oldest has disappeared and the plot centers around what happened to him The greed and jealousy and the love between the sisters and brothers runs unrestrained in this family. Martin, with his love of adventure and aspirations of becoming a playwright is the only one who manages to leave when he goes to college and then moves on to New York City. In college he soon discovers Deke and his own homosexuality. Through his relationship with Deke, he soon realizes why he was not sexually attracted to his high school sweetheart, Liza. When he returns to his hometown to help look for Leon his demons follow him. He struggles with alcoholism and the urge to flee when things close in on him.The story is told in several different view points through the Owenbys and their friends. All of the viewpoints are told in third person except one of the sisters, Ivy, which is in first person and who everyone thinks she is mentally ill because she speaks to the ghosts who surround her. When I first "met" Ivy, I thought she might really be crazy but by the time I finished Under the Mercy Trees I strangely believed in her ghosts also. The characters in this novel are worthy of remembrance because they are tragic but strong while bringing you into the story as if you live and breath with them. Even though I was born in western North Carolina I never really lived there. Most of my relatives on both sides were from that area. Even though I was raised in a military family, mostly in Alaska and northern Maine we visited when we could. As a child I was always fascinated by the different lifestyle, than mine, I experienced there. In Alaska, my mother entertained us with the ghost stories that are part of the rich heritage of folklore that North Carolina is noted for. The tales made us shiver for hours.For anyone who likes southern fiction and strong character driven stories, I highly recommend this novel.

  • Shannon
    2019-04-29 13:30

    Martin Owenby currently lives in New York City, having escaped the place of his childhood, Solace Forks, North Carolina. He is an unsuccessful writer, drinks heavily, and has meaningless relationships with various men. Martin is forced to return home to his family when his brother, Leon, goes missing. Bringing the Owenby siblings together again causes them to confront their past, and even present.The author effortlessly weaves the past within the present story, showing how characters have been shaped and how they have come to be who they are in the present. Martin, a gay man who left his best friend Liza, the woman who loved him. Ivy, who sees ghosts and has been mourning the suicide of her son for twenty years. Bertie, Martin’s sister-in-law, who left her husband James for a three-day affair, who came back pregnant. And then there are the siblings’ children and friends who contribute their part to the story as well.While I wouldn’t call this book a mystery, there was the question of what happened to Leon as well as the individual mysteries of the past. It is definitely a haunting, and even somewhat dark, family drama.Overall, I enjoyed reading the book. Initially, I did find it difficult to really get into it. It just didn’t capture my attention and I really didn’t want to read about “mountain people.” And keeping a written family tree and or cast of characters would have been helpful in the beginning as well. That being said, about a third of the way into it, I became engrossed with finding out what really did happen to Leon, as well as what happened during the past of the other characters that caused them to be who they were. I didn’t like all the characters, but that’s definitely a sign of a good story. Also, reading this book was almost reminiscent of some of the required reading from high school. In a few years, I believe it is very likely that this novel with be considered a true piece of literature.

  • Jennifer Jensen (Literally Jen)
    2019-05-11 14:36

    “Under the Mercy Trees” by Heather Newton, a family saga spanning 30 years, is a book that deserves to be read slowly and with concentration. The cast of characters was sometimes overwhelming for me, and if one does not pay careful attention to who is who and how they are related, it can be very easy to lose one’s way while reading this novel. By the time I reached the last section of this novel, I found myself wishing I’d kept a list of all of the characters and how they knew one another. Only a few characters really stood out to me; possibly because I read through this a little too quickly I missed a few things.One of reasons I wanted to read “Under the Mercy Trees” is because the protagonist of the novel, Martin Owenby, is homosexual. I’ve read very few, if any, novels where a book has been told from a gay person’s point of view, and I was very interested in how a female author might portray this character. 30 years ago Martin Owenby left the small town of Solace Forks for New York to become a successful writer. His life seems anything but ideal, and he has become an alcoholic. When Martin’s older brother Leon goes missing, Martin must return home to aid in finding him--alive or dead. Once home, Martin is forced to confront unresolved tensions between family members and the girl whose heart he broke.“Under the Mercy Trees” ended up being less of a mystery or thriller than I had anticipated, but I wasn’t disappointed in the least. I thoroughly enjoyed Newton’s writing style and the individuality each of her characters had, despite not being able to keep their connections to one another straight at first. I would definitely consider reading another of her books in the future, and may eventually re-read this one again to pick up on what I missed. The ending left me a little confused, so I’m positive I didn’t pick up on something.

  • Erin
    2019-05-23 14:23

    Ohhh...I liked this. It broke my summer book club dry spell! My 4th book after 3 previous ones unfinished, and it was a winner! A little story for you: I was at the Journey/Foreigner concert Sunday night (and yes, it was awesome, thanks for asking), enjoying myself immensely, and I was sitting in my chair, enjoying the good music. But on occasion, Journey would try out a new song from their new album (which I could care less about), so my brain would drift, just waiting for them to play "Any Way You Want It" or "Who's Crying Now?", and what kept popping into my head was...this book. And these characters. They felt very real to me, and I really wanted to know their stories, their histories. That's how good these characters were--they interrupted my Journey listening. Newton writes a lovely story about family--5 siblings in rural NC, the youngest (who's gay and closeted) who tries to escape his unhappy home after high school by going off to college then living as a poet and playwright in New York. He only returns home 30 years later when his oldest, and meanest, brother Leon goes missing. There's a mystery there, but mostly it's about how families interact with each other, and how we replay the same arguments, the same interplay, over and over again.My biggest issue with the mystery revolved around Leon's pictures...I had a hard time imagining that no one would have recognized the woman in them, although I could come up with a reasonable explanation. But it didn't ruin the story for me, and I thought there were a couple of great surprises hinging on them about 2/3rds in. I enjoyed the resolutionNewton did a terrific job engrossing me in this story and these people, and I left wanting to know them better. Absolutely terrific first effort.

  • Pam
    2019-05-12 14:20

    I loved this book. It kind of reminded me of Empire Falls from Richard Russo. It's just a slice of American life. The life in this case is the Owenby family. The Owenby family is described chapter by chapter, each chapter focusing on one of the four main family members, though the main character is Martin Owenby. Martin, a down-on-his-luck writer in New York returns to North Carolina because his brother Leon has gone missing. The storly slowly unfolds as the family deals with the feelings of the past. And it is slowly unfolding, nothing hurried, or terribly exciting, but still a pleasant journey, made all the more pleasant by the writing. Some favorite parts:"She chose James because he was handsome and good, didn't drink too much, and because if she squinted her mind's eye, she could fit James into the daydreams she clutched at the way a child does her blanket.""The rubbed each other's feet at night, complaining about their bosses but as happy as could be to be free of parents and answerable to nobody but themselves, a precious selfishness.""On impulse Martin reached out and hugged him, the way men were supposed to hug other men, quick and hard, as if they could imprint all their love in one squeeze."So, if you are looking for a slow, pleasant, enjoyable read, I highly recommend this.

  • April
    2019-05-17 16:28

    UNDER THE MERCY TREES by Heather Newton is an interesting contempory novel set in the 1850's and 1980's in Solace Fork,North Carolina a mountain town.This is this author's debut novel.It is well written with depth and details inspired partly by her husband's family and partly by her own experience. This is the story of North Carolina mountain life,a gay man,a homecoming,family,deception,secrets,bitterness,healing,and facing the past.To the Owenby family bitterness among themselves is nothing ususual,a everyday occurance along with broken dreams.When Leon,the uncle goes missing,the family comes together,and fight among themselves over his property.When he is finally found he is died. This is a complex story told from the different characters point of views.It is full of family drama,secrets, and complex emotions.If you enjoy drama,family secrets,homecomings,past loves,lost love,and broken dreams this is the story for you. This book was received for the purpose of review from Net Galley and the publisher and details can be found at Harper Collins Publishers and My Book Addiction Reviews.

  • Kaje Harper
    2019-05-14 13:22

    3.5 stars. This is at heart a Southern family novel, with a cast of characters, albeit more real and less eccentric than in some versions. The primary focal character is Martin, who escaped from his family to New York. He's a writer, college educated and gay and a poor fit with the rest of his kin. But there are other characters whose viewpoints are taken up, especially his childhood friend Liza who never left Solace Fork, NC, and his aunt Ivy, who sees ghosts. The author makes the unusual choice to have Ivy's passages in first-person narration, maybe to show she's a lot less crazy than she seems from the outside. For me, it wasn't an ideal choice, because her sections seemed more poignant and real than the rest. Since they were a minority of the book I was left a little dissatisfied with the rest. The story is driven by the mystery of what happened to Martin's missing brother Leon, and I did read to the end to find out. The author writes skillfully and at times I was struck by the universal humanity of her characters and their situations. I just wasn't glued to the story and read it in fits and starts among other books.

  • Tina Ray
    2019-05-10 13:29

    Fabulous book! A debut novel(always my favorite) by Heather Newton. The oldest brother of a family of five siblings goes missing in North Carolina in 1986. This forces the estranged youngest brother to return home to face his own past, and the secrets of generations. Under the Mercy Trees is told from four different people. Martin; the estranged brother, Liza; a girlfriend from his childhood until he realizes he is really homosexual. Bertie, the depressed and anxious wife of his other brother James and Ivy his sister who sees dead people. Full of mystery and secrets, lost love and broken hearts. Ghosts real and imagined haunt everyone in this story. The Owenby family members are hard to like and even harder to hate. Sadness, ignorance and repression have shaped who they are. Most do not get along even though they share much in common. Each full of hope in their youth, but now on the far side of middle age, they all have become resigned to the disappointing realities of life. I found myself sympathizing and relating with many personalities in this book. Quick to read and highly recommended.

  • Michael
    2019-05-03 10:33

    I had high expectations reading this, I thought it was going to be far better. Although I learning about the people that Leo left behind, the ending was a huge let down. The characters were fairly developed, I like their contribution to the story. For instance, Martin was a likeable character that was easily misunderstood by his other family members. I felt that they discriminated against him due to his sexual preference, it made them seem shallow. Martin obviously did not want to return home but he wanted to search for his missing brother. His siblings are a reflection of Leo, they each shared past experiences about the last moments with him. On the other half, this story was more about their perspectives and knew very little about what led to Leo disappearance.In addition, I thought the ending was very weak It had too many unanswered questions. There were more loopholes then there were conclusions,hence the average rating. Despite that, I do plan to read more novels by Newton, her writing style is unique.

  • Chana
    2019-05-17 18:09

    This is a sad book, unless you consider all of Ivy's ghosts. Ivy's ghosts make everything bearable, at least to this reader. The family is together, things are understood and known even if old arguments continue, there is continuity. With continuity it is much easier to accept the failings of people and the hurts that they inflict because a life can be seen in its entirety, forgiveness can be given and accepted. I guess I really like the idea that our relatives are often around, bickering, doing the chores they always did, watching over the generations that come after.So what happens here is that Leon, the oldest of 5 siblings, disappears. A search of the property is futile but Leon very rarely left the property and then only if someone else drove him. So where is he? We get involved with the family as they search for him. Each family member has their own problems and grievances, things to hide, pasts that hurt. But are any of them guilty of making Leon disappear? Meet the Owenby family, see what you think.

  • Eleanor
    2019-05-08 17:12

    My sister-in-law insisted I read this book. I will admit that for the past many, many days I have been telling her the same thing: I like this book, but I keep finding reasons to set it aside. It's just not grabbing hold of me. She kept telling me to keep on, and I did. Today during a lull at the store I decided to pick it up and knock a little more off, and OH MY GOODNESS did it ever just reach out and yank me up. I knew from the get-go that Heather Newton's writing was marvelous but I just was not connecting with any of the characters. Until... but you will find that place in the story yourself, I promise. Do I have to sum it up? Here goes - it's all about the power of love and family and place, and how that power holds past and future and cures and curses all in its knotted glory.

  • Lindaellen
    2019-05-21 17:18

    This book grew on me, and there were many things I liked about it - the author's prose is lovely, the device of having each chapter told from the viewpoint of one of the main characters works well here. But, to me, much of it was too stereotypical to really win me over - dysfunctional Southern family (and note to anyone reading: Southern families are NOT always dysfunctional and violent), one child gets away and makes good (seems to me that lately whatever child gets away always becomes a writer of some sort), long lost love always carries the torch for the one who left, etc., etc. But I will say Ms. Newton nailed small-town life pretty well, and her characters are well-defined. The "mystery" at the heart of the story is fairly thin. Not a bad book, but, for me, didn't live up to the four-star ratings I saw elsewhere.

  • Margaret
    2019-05-16 11:18

    Solid writing, beautiful at times. Newton's exposition of the story from present to past and back gives the book a natural, seamless feel. I found the characters quite real, so much so that I nearly gave up on the book about a third of the way through, because I found these people were annoying and tiresome. Of course, it was those annoying and tiresome traits that marked a gradual spiral into the deeper story. Newton opens us to the pain of very difficult lives---deep poverty, abuse, mental illness, infidelity and promiscuity, alcohol and drug use, and perhaps most of all indifference-- and still holds on to hope of redemption, without becoming maudlin or graphic. I did find myself wanting to better understand Eugenia and the power she wields over her siblings with her behavior and words. She is the least clearly drawn of the family, which niggled at me as I read.