Reviewed by Robert J. Wiersema
We have seen the sort of world depicted in Claudia Casper’s new novel before: a near-future dystopia, wracked in the wake of a global war and an environmental cataclysm, with governments driven to extreme measures to protect the lives of their citizens. The great strength of Casper’s work, though, is that it doesn’t focus on the larger scale, allowing the political and ecological landscape to form a backdrop for the deeply immersive, character-based storytelling we have come to expect from the Vancouver writer.
Allen “Mercy” Quincy is a former soldier suffering PTSD. He works as a parking enforcement officer as he struggles to isolate himself mentally and emotionally from all aspects of his past – his life as a soldier, the loss of his family – in an effort to retain his sanity. When he meets Ruby, a singer and dancer with secrets of her own, his fragile protective shell is shattered. His life with Ruby, and its calamitous aftermath, are chronicled in the titular journals, two notebooks Mercy discovers among his mother’s belongings after her death.
The journals afford, as one would expect, emotional immediacy and directness, an insight into the fractured world of Mercy’s mind and soul. The form, however, doesn’t preclude a larger perspective: Casper has Mercy writing in complete scenes with a sense of narrative motion, stretching the journal form to its very limits without ever stepping over the line. The device never seems mannered or limiting, and suits the material, which circles around questions of truth and memory, trust and betrayal.
The Mercy Journals is a novel of slow revelation, focused on the careful unfolding of a character even as he comes apart, truths glimpsed obliquely in the wreckage where self-serving falsehoods no longer carry any force. Structured as something of a mystery – the two Moleskine journals are found in a “yellow dry box” near the body of a man, a pistol, and a dead cougar – the novel balances the inevitable, necessary question of what happens next with a deeper inquiry into the very nature of who we are.