|A heart-broken painter meets a well-meaning Vegas show girl and
learns to love again? Sounds like a cliché churner as well as a
Kleenex wringer. But to my pleasant surprise, Sweet Mercy doesn’t sell its readers short. If you're in the mood for an emotional and heart-warming read, it may be just the thing.
Gamble Smith left his East Texas hometown several years ago when his
wife died. Turning his back on family, friendship and hope, he has
been pursuing his career as a painter in New York City. He is,
however, unable to cut off all ties. When someone offers to buy the
dream cottage he built with the love of his life, he hesitates. And
when he learns his mother is in a coma, he returns home.
On Gamble's first night back, he meets Jezebel Hart, who is currently
managing the town bar for an old friend. The two of them sleep
together, never expecting more than one night of comfort and
consolation. The trouble starts as soon as Jezebel realizes the
condom they used broke. Before she has time to consider the possible
unintended consequences, Gamble discovers she is the bidder on his
cottage. He turns against her, accusing her of using her body to get
hold of his long-abandoned house.
Gamble is self-righteous, sanctimonious and unnecessarily cruel--
traits that normally would turn me off immediately. And yet here,
Gamble's behavior is part of the very credible process he must
undergo before he can shed his grief and live again. Indeed, it isn't
long before Gamble not only apologizes for his behavior but also
opens up to Jezebel and the promise she holds.
A stripper with a heart of gold, Jezebel is another one of those
characters who would normally have me gritting my teeth. So I am
rather reluctant to admit that out of this hackneyed figure Brashear
fashions someone I care for. Jezebel may have survived the sticks and
stones of abandonment and foster homes, and the wandering hands of
more than one male, but words, especially when they come from Gamble
and his ill-informed family, do hurt her. She is nevertheless
realistic enough to understand why and strong enough never to wallow
in self-pity. And when apologies come, she is neither so self-abasing
as to forgive instantly, nor so haughty as to slam all doors.
Her possible pregnancy aside, Jezebel has already come to terms, at
the onset of the book, with all the bad cards life has dealt her.
There is, therefore, much less emotionally at stake with her than
with Gamble. Still, her genuine insecurities, her sheer cussedness
and her belief in life shine through the pages of the book, providing
it with a solid center.
The prose is lyrical, but it does occasionally turn purple. One
example: "Her skin was a feast, her curves a banquet, her hair a
glory." Yes, there is something poetic, even biblically so, about
these metaphors - until both the inconsistency and the excess makes
you stop and wince.
I also take issue with a minor plot line that justifies Jezebel's
presence in Three Pines: she witnesses a murder and needs to lie low
temporarily. There were enough hints dropped to make me think danger
was just around the corner. When nothing happened, I felt slightly had.
That said, hats off to Jean Brashear for breathing life into well-
worn character types and spreading a rainbow of color over a tear-