“I was born in a bolt of lightning on the banks of Bittersweet Creek. Mama said it was a prophesy, and as she is given to having visions of the biblical kind, no one argues with her. She can match what she sees with ancient words, and truth be told, she is frightening with the speaking of them. Mama can swipe you with her eyes so that you feel like you have either been hushed or resurrected by God’s own hand.”
– River Jordan, Miracle of Mercy Land, Chapter 1
The Miracle of Mercy Land exemplifies a genre I don’t hear much discussion of in Christian speculative fiction circles–magical realism. For those not familiar with the genre, magical realism stories blend supernatural and natural in a real-world setting, with the strangest of circumstances presented right alongside mundane day-to-day happenings. Frequently, these stories have a dream-like quality as they provide a glimpse into the reality of life infused with elements of the fantastic.
I see magical realism as falling under the umbrella of speculative fiction, and over the past several years, several Christian publishers have ventured into this area. Inasmuch as it deals with the supernatural, the genre provides ample opportunity to explore matters of faith, but the stories often go in strange directions and the ones I’ve read have left me disinterested.
So I picked up The Miracle of Mercy Land with some trepidation. The description on the back cover indicated a tale belonging to the magical realism genre (despite being categorized as “general fiction”), which gave me pause, yet the story concept intrigued me enough to pick up the book despite my reluctance:
Mercy Land has made some unexpected choices for a young woman in the 1930s. The sheltered daughter of a traveling preacher, she chooses to leave her rural community to move to nearby Bay City on the warm, gulf-waters of southern Alabama. There she finds a job at the local paper and spends seven years making herself indispensable to old Doc Philips, the publisher and editor. Then she gets a frantic call at dawn—it’s the biggest news story of her life, and she can’t print a word of it.
Doc has come into possession of a curious book that maps the lives of everyone in Bay City—decisions they’ve made in the past, and how those choices affect the future. Mercy and Doc are consumed by the mystery locked between the pages—Doc because he hopes to right a very old wrong, and Mercy because she wants to fulfill the book’s strange purpose. But when a mystery from Mercy’s past arrives by train, she begins to understand that she will have to make choices that will deeply affect everyone she loves—forever.
I’m glad I gave it a try, because I found myself unexpectedly engaged. Mercy narrates her story with a compelling voice, soon joined by that of Doc, and a mysterious individual from Mercy’s past. As suited to the genre, the story gives a dream-like sensation, sweeping the reader into the flow of unfolding events. It began slow at first, but soon picked up pace, like the creek by which Mercy Land was born. As Mercy and Doc attempt to decipher the mystery of the book given into their hands, one choice impacts another, shaping the course of their lives in a way that could endanger them and all of Bay City.
To delve too deeply into the plot elements would spoil the mystery of the book, so I won’t go further except to say it all unfolds in a satisfying fashion. Pure-hearted Mercy quickly endeared herself to me, and I enjoyed watching her enter the full power of her identity. Through her journey and that of the other characters, it becomes clear that God interweaves our stories together, and each choice we make influences not only our own lives, but the lives of those around us. While it’s different in terms of style and genre, it’s certainly worth a read.