A Tangled Mercy: Story of Compassion and Tears

December 1, 2017
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Joy Jordan-Lake’s new novel, A TANGLED MERCY, is the result of 20 years of research and writing that began when she was a young PhD student at Tufts. Set in Charleston, SC in present day and in 1822, she intertwines the stories of a gifted but enslaved 19th-century blacksmith and a floundering Harvard grad student who is researching the planning of a slave revolt. 

In this Authorlink AUDIO interview, Joy talks about the importance of our stories in breaking down barriers between cultures. Stories, she believes, help us walk in someone else’s shoes in a way that fosters more understanding. 

On the subject of writing, Joy believes the craft is neither learned or innate, but a combination of both. As one who teaches university-level writing, she advises writers trying to break into publishing to take seriously any rejection or suggestions from knowledgeable people, to read voraciously, and to attend writers’ conferences as a way of landing a good agent. 

In A TANGLED MERCY, after the sudden death of her troubled mother, struggling Harvard grad student Kate Drayton flees to Charleston, South Carolina, the place where her parents met, convinced it holds the key to understanding her fractured family and saving her career in academia. Kate is determined to unearth groundbreaking information on a failed 1822 slave revolt—the subject of her mother’s own research. Nearly two centuries earlier, Tom Russell, a gifted blacksmith, and slave grapples with a terrible choice: arm the uprising spearheaded by members of the fiercely independent African Methodist Episcopal Church or keep his own neck out of the noose and protect the woman he loves. Kate’s attempts to discover what drove her mother’s dangerous obsession with Charleston’s history are derailed by a massacre in the very same landmark church. In the unimaginable aftermath, Kate discovers a family she never knew existed as the city unites with a powerful message of hope and forgiveness for the world.

At the center of Jordan-Lake’s two decades of research for the book: Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (Mother Emanuel), where several slave revolt strategists had been leaders and, where nearly two hundred years to the day after the slave revolt, a racially charged shooting claimed the lives of innocent victims.

Considering the tragedy in 2015, Jordan-Lake almost did not move forward with getting her book published. But the people of Charleston, including members of the church such as Bishop John Richard Bryant, inspired and encouraged her to do so. In fact, Bishop Bryant has given the book a glowing endorsement:

“Joy Jordan-Lake has done a masterful job with her new novel, A TANGLED MERCY.

She captures the beauty, charm, and challenges of one of America’s great cities, Charleston, South Carolina. In the historical-cultural context of Charleston, her writing is an inspiration. Through rich character development, she gives us an intimate view of its African American life. A TANGLED MERCY is a must-read for those who want to experience The South. We meet people, both living and dead, that represent the iconic, ‘EMANUEL NINE.’”

African Methodist Episcopal Bishop John Richard Bryant, retired

“In a cultural climate all too prone to shouting and insults, and a climate in which talking about race is risky, I believe not talking about race is far more dangerous still,” explains Jordan-Lake. “It’s my hope this story of tragedy, brutality, beauty, and courage across two hundred years might be at least a small part of that conversation.”

Like E.L. Doctorow’s RagtimeA TANGLED MERCY combines historical and fictional characters in a tapestry that captures the rich and complex spirit of both nineteenth and twenty-first-century Charleston.

More praise for the book:

“Satisfying… [for] admirers of Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings.”

Library Journal

“Jordan-Lake brings us the aroma, taste, and view of Charleston as vividly as if we stood in the middle of the scene. The depth of emotion and veracity of the story sets this novel apart, as it brings a lost and critical piece of southern history to light. [It] is about the important things in our life—how art undoes our chaos; how history is part of our present; and how defiant love and forgiveness conquer hatred and bigotry.”

—Patti Callahan Henry, New York Times bestselling author of The Bookshop at Water’s End

 “A must-read novel for today. Weaving the story of a slave uprising in 1822 Charleston with one set during the 2015 massacre at Charleston’s AME Church, A Tangled Mercy reminds us of yesterday’s atrocities and today’s ongoing racial travesties. Throughout the novel, author Joy Jordan-Lake offers readers compelling characters, evocative writing, and an engrossing and appalling look at time past and time present.”

—M.K. Tod, author of Time and Regret

 “Joy Jordan-Lake’s A TANGLED MERCY is an incredibly compelling and meticulously researched historical novel that will have you thinking about it long after you turn the last page. The dual narrative interweaves the story of Harvard grad student Kate Drayton’s journey to Charleston, South Carolina to find answers about her deceased mother’s troubled past, with the little known but fascinating story of the Charleston slave uprising of 1822. It is a powerful and culturally relevant tale that should be on everyone’s must-read list this year.”

Jane Healey, author of The Saturday Evening Girls Club

About the Author of A TANGLED MERCY (Lake Union Publishing; November 2017; hardcover & trade paperback original). 

Joy Jordan-Lake has written more than a half-dozen books, including the novel Blue Hole Back Home, which won the Christy Award in 2009 for Best First Novel. The book, which explores racial violence and reconciliation in the post–Civil Rights South, went on to be chosen as the Common Book at several colleges, as well as being a frequent book club pick. Jordan-Lake holds a PhD in English, is a former chaplain at Harvard, and has taught literature and writing at several universities. Her scholarly work Whitewashing Uncle Tom’s Cabin draws on the narratives, journals, and letters of enslaved and slaveholding antebellum women, research that led her to the story behind A Tangled Mercy. Living outside of Nashville, she and her husband have three children. To learn more about the author and her work, visitwww.joyjordanlake.com.

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This post was written by Doris Booth

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