The Mercy Journals

Winner, Philip K. Dick Award for Distinguished Science Fiction

The Mercy Journals


This unsettling novel is set thirty years in the future, in the wake of a third world war. Runaway effects of climate change have triggered the collapse of nation/states and wiped out over a third of the global population. One of the survivors, a former soldier nicknamed Mercy, suffers from PTSD and is haunted by guilt and lingering memories of his family. His pain is eased when he meets a dancer named Ruby, a performer who breathes new life into his carefully constructed existence. But when his long-lost brother Leo arrives with news that Mercy's children have been spotted, the two brothers travel into the wilderness to look for them, only to find that the line between truth and lies is trespassed, challenging Mercy's own moral code about the things that matter amid the wreckage of war and tragedy.

Set against a sparse yet fantastical landscape, The Mercy Journals explores the parameters of personal morality and forgiveness at this watershed moment in humanity's history and evolution.


"From the opening paragraph, I dove into the deep end of a dystopian world that was terrifying, familiar and thrilling, and made me keep reading until the shocking end. The novel focuses on family and survival and love and humans' nature; hunger, passion, possession, and murder. It's a masterpiece."

- Jamie Lee Curtis

"The Mercy Journals is a book of extraordinary vision. Part Lord of the Flies, part Romeo Dallaire's Shake Hands With the Devil, I cam out of this book deeply touched by the characters who moved through it, but also more alert. There's a sense of the prescient in this novel - of where we could end up if we're not careful."

- Aislinn Hunter, author of The World Before Us

"I admire tremendously how The Mercy Journals takes current concerns - global warming, PTSD, anti-immigration policies, war - and weaves them seamlessly into a gripping and mysterious plot set in a future world that, like any excellent sci fi, is really about today."

- John Colapinto, Staff Writer at The New Yorker

"Not since Margaret Atwood's Snowman have we met such a desperate and compelling hero as Allen Quincy, doing his best to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. Claudia Casper takes us into a chillingly believable landscape where love still clicks in on red high heels and brothers still engage in conflict of biblical proportions."

- Merilyn Simonds, author of The Convict Lover

"Casper's wry lament for the world is utterly unforgettable. She creates a slow apocalypse and finds real human voices and aching in the collapse and rebirth of society."

- Emily Schultz, author of The Blondes



Reviewed by Christine Canfield

This complex tale puts global crises and personal crises hand in hand, and questions if morality must adapt.

Many dystopian novels feel distant, taking place in a time far from now, but Claudia Casper’s The Mercy Journals feels like it’s just on the other side of the door. Current global issues collide, causing disastrous wreckage out of which emerges a new social order, in this roller-coaster ride through the mind of an ex-soldier with PTSD.

Casper offers up the journals of Allen Quincy, an ex-soldier nicknamed Mercy. In the aftermath of war and a massive human die-off, Mercy has whittled what’s left of his life down to the smallest common denominator, moving between work and home and keeping to himself as much as possible. Until Ruby comes along. And then his long-lost brother, Leo. Convinced to travel into the wilderness in search of other lost family members, Mercy must confront his past and question the moral stance it has caused him to take.

There is a deftness to Casper’s writing that allows her to maintain control while juggling numerous complex layers. The combination of global problems explored here—climate change, war, refugees, famine—could easily become overwhelming, especially when combined with the sometimes erratic diary entries of a traumatized man, but each is given its place in the narrative, intertwined with Mercy’s own issues of loss and mental illness. Likewise, while many post-apocalyptic stories have a cast of characters that all feel the same way about their new world, here there are a number of reactions, often falling along generational lines. This complicated web is weaved with Casper’s lyrical prose: “Every movement she made, every sound she uttered was heightened, stripped bare, exposed in a raw clarity.”

This complex tale puts global crises and personal crises hand in hand, and questions if morality can stay the same or must adapt. It interweaves destruction with hope, individualism with socialism, and bouts of mental illness with moments of clarity, all while maintaining a strong plot and protagonist that carry the story forward. It will be an excellent addition to any science-fiction library.

BC BookLook

Trump's Wall Foretold
Reviewed by Joan Givner

Claudia Casper’s new novel adds to a growing body of work designated as “cli-fi,” a genre distinct from sci-fi and fantasy, because the horrors described are not futuristic fantasies but predictions of a certain future.

Fans of Casper’s highly successful first novel, The Reconstruction, will find The Mercy Journals (Arsenal Pulp $17.95) darker and more complex.

Both explore what it means to become fully human and, specifically, the part played by memory in that process. In the earlier novel, Casper focuses on the memory of humans’ evolutionary past. Her main character, a sculptor, reconstructs her shattered life as she assembles an anatomical replica of the primate, Lucy, for an anthropological museum. “We want visitors to connect themselves to the history of their bodies,” says her supervisor.

In The Mercy Journals Casper’s focus shifts from the distant past to the future; memory is not a benign but rather a crippling force.

The year is 2047; climate change, “a threat multiplier,” has spawned hundreds of global catastrophes—floods, fires, food shortages, new diseases, war and genocide.

We meet Allen Levy Quincy, a veteran of the Third World War and an amputee, who lives amid the remnants of a ruined world. Most of his family has disappeared or perished in the big die-off. It is Quincy’s psychic wound rather than the lost limb that threatens to destroy him. He carries a heavy burden of guilt for his part in an atrocity—the genocidal slaughter of migrants who were trying to breach the wall that was built between Mexico and the United States.

Can there ever be forgiveness for such cruelty?

Casper’s study of humanity involves a comparative look at non-human behaviour. In the first half of the novel she describes Allen finding solace in observing three beautiful goldfish he keeps in a tank (an illegal possession since pets are forbidden). His pleasure sours when he sees the two healthy, well-fed fish tormenting a sick and dying one by taking bites out of its flesh. This image of gratuitous savagery resonates throughout the book, a possible commentary on both species.

As he sinks into a suicidal stupor of drugs and alcohol, Allen stumbles on a way to obliterate his nightmares. On his mobile, he learns of the idea, attributed to Socrates, that writing weakens the mind by making people cease to exercise memory. It also falsifies inner processes, turning them into artificial, manufactured things.

Trees are no longer cut down, and paper and pens are unavailable in the new world order, policed by The Green Planet Brigade and vigilantes. Luckily, Allen finds two blank notebooks and some pencils among his mother’s remains. He hopes that writing a diary will pry loose the death grip of memories on his mind. And there is another element in his healing process—a vital sexual relationship.

Allen appears to be on the way to recovery until he discovers that intimacy precludes secrecy and he can’t avoid confiding the enormity of his guilt to his lover. His confession precipitates a crisis, alienating her and reviving his despair.

Even the act of writing, formerly therapeutic, becomes repellent when applied to the atrocities in his past. He concludes that describing the agonies of helpless and desperate people is a violation of their most private moments, a form of pornographic voyeurism. In another powerful image he compares it to a death-camp guard’s demand for a striptease performance before sending a victim to her death.

“Salvation comes in many ways,” Allen writes in his diary, and for him it is the reappearance of his brother and nephew and the prospect of finding his lost sons that once again revives his will to live.

The second half of the novel is more subdued in tone, and framed in references to ancient myths. With his newfound relatives, he travels to the family’s cabin in a remote northern corner of Vancouver Island, hoping that his sons might have made their way there. Although the cabin is named Nirvana, it is echoes of the Old Testament that predominate. Life on the island starts out as a kind of Eden, in which they live simply, tilling the soil and living off the land. A young woman, already there, adds to the sense of a new beginning because, in violation of the one-child law, she is about to give birth.

Although Allen sustains new injuries, inflicted by a predatory cougar, the wounds, can be viewed as fortuitous. His three companions tend to him protectively, and Allen, in turn, rather than hating the beast becomes protective of the cougar and her cubs.

Echoes of the book of Genesis, and especially the references to the story of Cain and Abel, give the violent climactic events in The Mercy Journals a sense of inevitability. “Were we ever going to act differently?” Allen asks rhetorically when he contemplates the global devastation. It appears humans are programmed to cause universal destruction.

The ending is rich in moral ambiguity and irony arising from Allen’s statement that, although bearing the mark of Cain, he has survived.

A theme throughout is the healing potential, the morality, the danger and the power of writing. Alone on the island, Allen finds a different method of writing; he laboriously chisels in stone a message to the world, using an omniscient voice and cadences reminiscent of the Bible.

In the beginning was the Word, and it seems that after all the destruction, devastation, and death, it is the word that will endure.



July 26th, 2016

Claudia Casper’s third novel The Mercy Journals begins in a not-too-distant future, in a post-apocalyptic world that has come into being not because of war, terrorism, genocide, or violence, but because of a water crisis. Global drought and the ensuing starvation led to a third world war as countries protected their flagging water supplies and defended their borders at all costs. Drought, famine, and war drastically reduced the population in what the survivors refer to as the “die-off.” After the die-off, borders are blurred, pleasure nearly erased, and the necessities of life—food, transportation, power, cell phone usage—carefully rationed by the government. Pets, even harmless goldfish, are banned. Men and women live simple lives, limited to one-child families, and people gather at community cafeterias to save their meager power rations.

Allen Quincy, a soldier-turned-meter-maid, nicknamed Mercy for his actions during the third world war, tells his life story through his journals in an attempt to stave off the memories that haunt him, and to tame the post-traumatic stress disorder from which he suffers. The novel is divided into two parts: Mercy’s first and second journals. The journals begin in 2047, fifteen years after the die-off that ushered in the new societal order OneWorld. In his new life, Mercy’s daily routine consists of scanning for illegal license tags, feeding his contraband goldfish, and rereading his overdue library books. The journals follow Mercy’s attempts to reconnect to the world from which he willingly withdrew. Removed from family and loved ones, he keeps memories of his ex-wife and children at bay by living a passion-free life, until a chance encounter with a dancer alters the timbre of his quiet life:

Billions die from starvation, thirst, disease, and war, violence is done to the mind, a human life shrinks to the emotional range of a hummingbird guarding his territory, cataclysms come and go, yet someone of the opposite sex walks by and really looks at you and your whole world comes to a stop.

He meets Ruby, a woman he describes as “Spark to dynamite, grit in oyster, cutter of hair, Eve, Pandora, agitator, gestator of mystery, fomenter of change.” Thrown headlong into a sexual awakening, Mercy is prepared to end his self-imposed celibacy and solitude in favor of an affair with Ruby. But he is waylaid by the sudden reappearance of his long-lost brother Leo and Leo’s odd request, which threatens the life Mercy is so carefully seeking to reconstruct.

Casper employs an unexpected cast of characters strangely befitting her post-apocalyptic landscape. Mercy hobbles with a peg leg and detaches himself from all he loves to keep his emotions at bay. Then there is his resource-guzzling brother, who even in a word devoid of commodities and luxuries still seems to be on the make. Mercy must also contend with Ruby, a ravenous dancer who eats him out of house and home, his nephew Griffin, and Parker, a pregnant homesteader. Casper’s characters reflect the tensions among social groups and the ways in which the die-off has potentially pitted them against one another. People like Leo struggle to adjust to the new order, while people like his nephew Griffin believe in the communal efforts of OneWorld and actually prefer it. Then are those like Mercy, who are caught between the two worlds:

Obviously I believe that civil society is our only hope, yet I understand what drives the rage. People still remember when individual citizens were allowed to consume as much as they wanted as long as they could pay. People still remember the impotence of knowing that the environment we all depended on for survival was being destroyed by people wanting more—more money, more security, more control, more stuff—and we remember our own anxiety as we ourselves did things that contributed to our destruction. We remember when we realized that we relied for survival on a system that was killing us. It’s not like our fates aren’t all bound together.

In The Mercy Journals Casper gives us a glimpse of society boiled down to its most essential parts. Food, water, energy/power, fuel are all in short supply, but in Casper’s world individual thought is also carefully controlled and limited. So is love, or emotional intimacy. Characters fight for scraps of love, affection, and physical intimacy. When the trappings of material consumption, luxury, and pleasure are taken away, terms like family, forgiveness, love, and loyalty are not so easily defined. Individual wants give way in the face of collective hunger. The strain on the environment produces humans who are compelled to conform and are forced to live communally, giving rise to a chicken-or-egg question by asking readers to consider whether capitalism and all its excesses eventually lead to socialism or if the restrictions of socialism urge people toward capitalism.

Readers familiar with such post-apocalyptic and dystopic novels as 1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, and The Martian Chronicles will recognize the nods Casper gives to such seminal works in her novel. For example, when she shows how difficult it is for Mercy to find writing instruments and the surprise his journal engenders among others, she gives us a world in which people have stopped reading and writing, revealing that while environmental damage and lack of resources may be the obvious fallout of the third world war, lack of individual thought is another serious byproduct. Her depictions of the world after the war reveal landscapes that show the scars of humanity’s material excesses and the ravages of human greed. As in most scenarios that imagine a post-apocalypse, humans have destroyed the world by consuming its resources, but Casper imagines a scenario in which limited resources are the cause, not the effects, of the world war.

Casper’s scenario expands upon the lifeboat ethics question. What should and would people do in order to survive when resources are limited? What inherent savageries do we reveal when faced with threat of extinction? What do we evolve or devolve into when it is me versus thee? Each of Casper’s four main characters supplies different answers to these questions, based on how much they’ve lost, what there is to gain and what they have at stake. The Mercy Journals reveals how universal platitudes give way to dangerously personal and selfish responses when our backs are up against the wall.

The Rumpus

Cain and Abel

Can murder become extinct?

The Mercy Journals is a new novel by Claudia Casper, author of The Reconstruction and The Continuation of Love by Other Means. In it, she creates a compelling post-climate change West Coast, where nations no longer exist. Her hero, Allen Levy Quincy, lives in Seattle, now called Canton #3, Administrative Department of Cascadia, and the novel consists of the journals he writes in a desperate attempt to evade suicidal urges, brought on by post-traumatic stress disorder. In this layered, hopeful post-apocalyptic novel, Casper looks at the future through the story of Cain and Abel. In fact, one of the early titles for the novel was The Last Murder, as a bracket to the story of that first murder.

Jewish Independent: The novel takes place in the (near) future in a climate-changed world. Is it a dystopian novel, science fiction or eco-fiction? How would you describe it?

Claudia Casper: Genre-bending fiction was being written well before the advent of ebooks, Amazon and the internet’s stretching of the forms of fiction, but I would say there are a number of writers who pay less mind to the dictates of genre and simply go wherever the story takes them. One example would be The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. [Michael] Chabon combines detective noir with fantasy or alternative history to create a miraculous new, possibly one-of-a-kind thing.

Science fiction readers have proven a generous and open-minded community and seem to have embraced the new raft of novels whose driving force is the environment and climate change. Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake trilogy, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Hilary St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven – all are “literary” (I use the air quotes not to comment on these novels’ literariness, but because “literary fiction” is an over-precious, stifling term for a genre) novels written in the future, with only Atwood using some of the classic tropes of science fiction. This kind of writing, trying to find a place in the speed-of-light marketing world, calls itself variously eco-fiction, cli-fi, post-apocalyptic, dystopian, speculative fiction, each sub-genre carrying its own nuance. I would place The Mercy Journals in all these categories except dystopian, as the government imagined in 2047 is actually pretty good.

JI: While the book does not explicitly make reference to Judaism, there are parallels between the story of Allen Quincy and Leo (Quincy’s brother) and the biblical tale of Cain and Abel.

CC: I read the story of Cain and Abel closely, using the Jewish Publication Society of America translation, and studied the midrash on the text. The language is so rich and layered, from “Am I my brother’s keeper?” to “You shall be more cursed than the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.” The story in the Torah is short but its power resonates throughout our literature and our culture.

In The Mercy Journals, I sewed in references to Cain and Abel throughout the text. At one point, when Leo, the long-lost, nihilistic brother of my main character, Allen Quincy, returns, Allen says wryly, “I suppose that means I have to keep you?” The earth drinking blood, also an image I use at least twice. The final scene, which I cannot give away, reenacts Cain going out to the field.

What I wanted to do in this novel was bookend the Cain and Abel story with a metaphorical last murder, as opposed to the first murder, to write the murder of Cain by Abel, a closing of the circle. Of course, I could not believably write about a time when humans completely stop murdering each other, but I do carry the narrative of our species to a possible turning point, where we turn away from murder and its practise becomes truly taboo and despised in every context.

JI: When Quincy, a soldier, is ordered by his superiors to do something against his own moral code, he obeys, though reluctantly, and with some subversive evasions. Although genetics and environment affect who we may become, Judaism teaches us that we have free will and can choose to do right or wrong. Quincy suffers from PTSD partly because of the unresolvable internal conflict following those orders causes in him. What influenced you to make your main character an individual suffering from PTSD? How do we reconcile liking him with the fact that he is complicit in two of humanity’s worst sins?

CC: After the genocide in Rwanda and post-9/11, I felt deeply uneasy at the rhetoric used by the media and by politicians, in which it was implied that only “those” people, “those” cultures – read Africa, Cambodia, Germany, the Arabs – commit atrocities. First Nations people must have read those articles with a deep sense of irony. Because the lens through which I look at the world is always informed by evolution, I believe that genocidal behavior, for example, is a part of our species. It has been documented in chimpanzees and any behavior that exists both in living primates and ourselves is behavior that was very likely present in our ancestors.

There’s a kind of implied self-righteousness and superiority in that kind of distancing rhetoric that seeks to separate us from the behavior of the “bad” cultures. I felt very deeply that, if we are to have any hope of truly limiting atrocities within our species, we have to accept that they are part of who we are. Part of the reason The Mercy Journals was set in the future in the first place was because I wanted to write about a genocide that hadn’t happened yet, and that happened in North America, that was committed by “our” culture, “our” team.

Allen Quincy is a good man, a decent man, even though he’s haunted by the sins – and he counts them as sins – he has committed in the past. His brother Leo, the Cain figure, also is pushed towards sin, and there is even a scene where Leo literally crouches at Allen’s door and Allen writes wryly in his journal, “Salvation comes in many forms.” The novel really is about whether Allen Quincy, standing in for our species, has the possibility of moving forward, of living a life with his dark legacy.

JI: Quincy carved a covenant on a rock, which seems a very Jewish thing to do. After Cain murdered Abel, God said to him: “… your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the earth.” As the word used for blood is plural, does this mean that what cries out is not only Abel’s blood but all of his descendants that will never be born? Was that what Quincy was saying about murder when he said the murder of one is the murder of all? How does a person atone for murder?

CC: Yes, Rashi says that the plural here indicates also the extinguishment of all Abel’s descendants with his murder. Because The Mercy Journals is about the future of our species, compressed in the suspenseful tale of a West Coast, post-apocalyptic, post-climate change tale, I take it one step further. The murder of Abel, the murder of anyone, is expanding the place of murder in our species, is further entrenching its place in our repertoire. Thus, the murder of one is the murder of all. Thinking about climate change shows us again how deeply connected we all are, that we can never really escape each other, we have to find a way to deal with one another, and murder is always a failure. There is no possible atonement for murder in my mind, it is irrevocable, yet still, short of suicide, one must find a way forward. Who is without sin? And whose life exists without the legacy of murder at its very root? God’s punishment of Cain seems to acknowledge this.

JI: Quincy’s brother Leo was jealous of Quincy as was Cain of Abel. Why did God reject Cain’s offering? Why did Leo’s parents reject him?

CC: Without being an expert in midrash, I believe one of the main interpretations these days is that Abel, as a shepherd and a man who did not gather possessions, represents a nomadic, hunter-gatherer existence, while Cain, as a farmer who cultivated the fields and, therefore, had property, represents an agrarian one. God’s preference for Abel’s offering can be understood to be preferring nomadic values over agrarian ones, or the old ways over the new.

That being said, if we interpret God in this story as in a parental role, the choosing of favorites is always destabilizing to family unity, creating deep wounds and lasting resentments. From an evolutionary perspective – so, viewing our behavior with the understanding it arose in a pre-birth control context – such favoritism can result in a life and death situation for an individual. We are living in a time of relative wealth, but it wasn’t long ago when a family could easily have eight or nine children and be faced with drought or famine. The favored child would thus be the one who received a little more food, a little more medicine, the one who would be picked, even if unconsciously, to be prioritized to survive. Studies of mothering behavior in human evolution bear this scenario out.

When I reread the story of Cain and Abel eight years ago as I was beginning this novel, I felt sympathy for Cain, and felt that God was shirking responsibility a bit. Why can’t God see Cain’s pain? Surely telling the less-favored child to not worry about the advantages their sibling is getting and take their own good behavior as its own reward, doesn’t pass muster in a family. Why doesn’t God see Cain murder Abel? Why doesn’t God punish Cain with death? Why does God decide, when Cain cries out that he will surely be killed by strangers if he’s banished, to put his divine mark on him to protect him from death? Is there an implicit acceptance of the fact of murder in this story? And, if so, I wanted to imagine forward to a time when God would find murder utterly unacceptable, as taboo as incest, for example. In our society, murder is still seen as inevitable between human beings in certain circumstances; in wartime, it’s accepted. What would the world be like if humans were starting to evolve past murder, past genocide? Those seeds are at the core of The Mercy Journals.

Barbara Buchanan, QC, is a Vancouver lawyer who provides practice advice to other lawyers. She and Claudia Casper are longtime friends who are in the same book club. Buchanan recently attended the Los Angeles launch of The Mercy Journals with Casper, who was introduced by actress Jamie Lee Curtis, a big fan of the book.



Reviewed by Kyle Schoenfeld

As with any book imagining a future world, Claudia Casper’s The Mercy Journals threads its way between optimism and pessimism, utopia and dystopia. It’s impossible to call the vision behind this book a utopian one—environmental destruction has caused billions of deaths and the breakdown of society—but neither is it entirely pessimistic. In Casper’s near future, material comforts are few and far between, and all the survivors carry scars from the “die-off.” But, in spite of its characters’ lingering tendencies to violence and short-sightedness, the book does not read like a cautionary tale; it is, instead, a story of finding beauty and human connections in the wake of destruction.

This ambivalence is reflected in its narrator, a former soldier nicknamed Mercy. When we meet him, he’s both physically and emotionally broken, haunted by the memory of his military service and the loss of his wife and sons. He copes with physical disability and PTSD by living the life of a “celibate hedonist,” (21) intent on day-to-day routine as a way of systematically stripping out anything emotionally resonant. Nevertheless, Mercy is supportive of the new regime (though he keeps his illegal pet goldfish) and able to reflect, “In some ways the world is more beautiful than it was before.” (115)

When the book opens, Mercy’s antiseptic routine has already been shattered. He has fallen in love with Ruby, a fellow survivor with her own share of survivor’s guilt. The eponymous journals are Mercy’s way of regaining some equilibrium in his life. The whole book is organized as a series of journal entries, but it wears this epistolary format lightly. The first half is not a day-by-day recounting but a recapitulation of the romance with Ruby, written at a time when the narrator is newly wounded and the relationship’s future is in doubt.

At the same time, his routine is further disturbed by the reappearance of his brother Leo, unreconstructed capitalist and the family’s black sheep. He convinces Mercy to join him on a journey to the old family cabin in the Vancouver Island wilderness where, he hints, Mercy’s long-missing sons might have taken refuge. The second half of the book takes us on this journey. As the two brothers—along with Leo’s stepson and a woman hiding her illegal pregnancy from the authorities—settle into their claustrophobic idyll, it becomes clear that Leo’s selfishness and Mercy’s law-abiding altruism can’t coexist forever. While Leo appears intermittently in Mercy’s first journal and the memory of Ruby haunts the second, the two halves are distinct in setting and in mood—a post-apocalyptic love story followed by a Cain-and-Abel confrontation.

Though it leaves some questions unanswered, The Mercy Journals is a successful piece of world-building. Its matter-of-fact approach—to the scale of destruction in its background, and to the harsh measures needed to keep society running—resonates with our own time, when the environmentalist cautionary tale is no longer virgin terrain and utopia may seem old-fashioned. The book is perhaps at its best when we get Mercy’s close observations of the world and the people who inhabit it. In one entry, for instance, he watches a crew launch their dragon boat among the ruins of old Seattle’s marina: “Silently, they eased the contraption down to the water’s edge and set the boat in the water. The drummer set up her drum and took her perch, the sweep positioned herself at the stern, and the rest got in and pushed off onto the grey-green water, rowing slowly backward, the sweep calling out instructions to avoid shallow-water obstacles. They disappeared in the fog. The last thing I saw was the boat’s green dragon head with its red tongue lolling out between white teeth. Then I heard the drum.” (115)

Throughout the book, Mercy’s morals remain ambiguous. He’s humane toward animals—his pet goldfish and even a wild cougar that mauls him—but at the same time he’s ready (though reluctant) to use violence against people who threaten the fragile social system they’ve constructed. He is torn between family duty and social responsibility, loyal to loved ones but willing to leave his sons in the past. “I am the kind of man whose sons are better off without him,” (113) he argues. At one point he confesses, “I think I am a good man. Still.” (88) It’s left to us to judge whether anyone in his circumstances can really make that claim.


Quill and Quire

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.


Canadian Literature

Meditations on Mercy
Reviewed by Emma Morgan-Thorp

Claudia Casper’s The Mercy Journals is many things: a musing on a post-apocalyptic future, one man’s story of grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an archetypal journey into the Canadian wilderness, a family drama, a love story. At its core, Casper’s novel meditates on the conditions in which human beings will act mercifully, and on what is left when mercy is not enough.

Set in 2047 in the wake of World War III, The Mercy Journals is the story of Allan Quincy, a veteran suffering from PTSD in what was once Seattle. The author’s decision to explore a post-apocalyptic world through the eyes of a white male American ex-soldier yields unexpected rewards. The sense of Quincy as a merciful individual is muddied by his identificatory privilege, and raises the question: what position must one be in to bestow mercy? The novel is divided into two parts: Journal One, in which the reader learns about Quincy and the state of the world in 2047, and follows his relationship with a woman named Ruby; and Journal Two, in which Quincy, with his brother Leo and nephew Griffin, sets off on a journey to the east coast of Vancouver Island in search of his sons and the family cabin.

Ruby is a catalyst for Quincy—a mysterious and alluring woman by whom he is convinced to delve into a past from which he had divorced himself, and to search for an estranged family. The climax of Journal One comes with Quincy’s confession to Ruby of the cause of his PTSD (also the source of his nickname, Mercy). His account of the atrocities committed by American forces at the Mexico-US border during World War III is deeply horrifying, and—more disturbing yet—feels all the more plausible in the wake of the 2016 American presidential election. For an alternative perspective on how the future might play out along that border, one might read this novel alongside Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead; both offer damning accounts of border politics and the road down which contemporary views of nation and citizenship might lead.

Journal Two sees three men set off on a quintessentially Canadian journey into the wilderness—here, a wilderness impoverished by extinctions. Due to the diminished, recovering nature of Casper’s post-apocalyptic world and its location in the not-too-distant future, this is not a work of science fiction. Despite being futurist in scope, The Mercy Journals is not caught up in the excitement and fear surrounding possible technological advancements, but rather dwells in the very plausible consequences of our lives as we are currently living them. Casper’s post-apocalyptic North America has begun to settle into a kind of rhythm. The collapse of the nation-state and the dangerous condition of climate change have brought about strict global imperatives, including a cap of one child per family and a total halt to CO2 emissions.

The Mercy Journals takes its place alongside Thomas King’s The Back of the Turtle and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven in the growing tradition of Canadian literature which wonders what will bring on our apocalypse, and what we will do when it comes. Setting the novel in 2047 draws attention to the plausibility of this kind of apocalyptic near-future for Canadians. Casper, a Vancouver resident, clearly takes the threat of climate change seriously; her fears are reflected in the novel, which reads as an admonishment to Canadian citizens to heed climate warnings and change our lifestyles while it’s still possible. Given the novel’s setting on the West Coast and its emphasis on the dire ramifications of climate change, current resource extraction projects planned for the coast (the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline and the liquefied natural gas station at Lelu Island, for example) inevitably come to mind. Casper’s novel thus acts as a powerful environmentalist manifesto and call to action.


Reviewed by Donna Seaman

A “change in the weather” caused the deaths of four billion people and a global collapse of nation-states. Army veteran Allen Levy Quincy, nicknamed “Mercy,” begins keeping a journal in 2047 in an attempt to protect his shredded sanity. His parents and wife have died, he’s lost track of his sons and his brother, and he is haunted by a genocidal horror on the U.S.-Mexico border. Allen has been following a frugal routine in what used to be Seattle, breaking the law against owning pets for the peaceful companionship of goldfish. But then this solitary, one-legged, alcoholic soldier meets Ruby, a self-possessed dancer attempting to corral her own grief, and his brother reappears, a veritable maelstrom of chaos and greed. They end up at their family’s cabin on cougar-stalked Vancouver Island, where conflicts over how to live precipitate a Cain-and-Abel confrontation. Posing profound questions about compassion, values, and our capacity for life-saving change, Canadian author Casper performs a remarkably incisive and sensitive variation on the dystopian theme in this suspenseful and provocative tale of sacrifice and survival.

Publisher's Weekly

It's 2047, and a third world war and climate change have left billions dead. A new global government has created a set of emergency laws to facilitate humanity's survival. Allen "Mercy" Quincy enforces new environmental standards. But Allen isn't without his demons, not the least of which is the unknown location of his two sons. He suffers from PTSD and journals as a process of "mnemectomy"—attempting to degrade unwanted memories by placing them outside of himself. But memory is a difficult thing to escape, and when Allen's selfish, self destructive brother Leo reappears, begging him to travel north to their family's cabin on Vancouver Island, Allen is besieged by the past. The book, presented as a pair of journals uncovered in 2072, is part cautionary tale, part survival narrative. Each journal has its own feel: the first details Allen's daytoday life and his brief affair with a dancer; the second is more introspective, with days and weeks bleeding together as Allen and Leo confront one another. Casper (The Reconstruction) employs clear, concise prose that at a steady clip, and the exploration, through one man's account, of what it means to outlive one's purpose is tightly constructed if not especially groundbreaking.

The Vancouver Sun

Reviewed by Candace Fertile

Claudia Casper’s third novel, The Mercy Journals, addresses a timely issue: how to live in a degraded world. The first point is that many people don’t. We learn right at the beginning that the journals are found on Vancouver Island in 2072, along with the remains of a human being and a cougar. Allen Quincy, whose nickname is Mercy, writes his two journals in 2047, after a great die-off and the restructuring of the political system in OneWorld.

Journal One is set mainly in what was once Seattle. Quincy is 58 years old and has witnessed absolute horror. He lives a small life in a small apartment, having lost his family and any desire to succeed other than to survive and to try to dampen the force of what could be called PTSD. He was once a soldier and for many years he has believed that the only way to survive is to reduce his life to the simplest of pleasures: how his worn flannel sheets feel, for example. His life changes dramatically when he meets Ruby Blades, a free-spirited woman, who awakens desire in him — but Ruby struggles with her own demons.

Quincy turns back to alcohol after 18 years of sobriety, and his overwhelming need to forget the past, to lose memory, leads him to write the journals. He’s read that Socrates believed writing “will implant forgetfulness” as it leads people to rely on material outside themselves to remember — and he is desperate to forget.

Casper has created a complex and unforgettable character in Quincy. He grapples with what he thinks is the second main philosophical question: Why am I here? The first question — Who am I? — he inadvertently answers by addressing the second. So we have an intelligent, thoughtful, deeply damaged man who is tormented by his past, unsure of the present, and, at least initially, unwilling to consider the future. And all that is set against a radically altered world which has been nearly destroyed due to human greed and failure to act in time to prevent or limit climate change.

In part, the novel could be seen as a treatise on loss. If Quincy can stop remembering the losses he has endured and even caused, he hopes he can stop the pain. But it’s not that simple, or even possible, so he must move forward and create a life for himself.

And through his relationship with Ruby he learns about his possibilities and limitations. He also has to cope with his brother Leo, whom he has not seen for 20 years. Leo is a vile human being, the personification of greed. He’s the weakest character in the novel because he is so one-dimensional, but it’s understandable why Casper would include such a man, given the destruction the world has experienced because of people like Leo.

Journal Two is a break from the first as Quincy, Leo and Leo’s stepson Griffin travel to Vancouver Island to the old family cabin (called Nirvana) to rebuild their lives. But as we know from the first page, someone dies.

Stylistically, the novel portrays memory realistically with its forward and backward movement. Patterns of imagery serve to create coherence. For example, Casper has used feline imagery to tie together some of the various struggles. Quincy describes keeping things together with the image that his “cats were stuffed in a bag and sleeping”; that image shifts. The cougars on Vancouver Island are real, and hungry. And Leo’s name references cats.

While the novel is set in the future, it doesn’t seem that far away or fantastical. Instead of driverless cars, most people walk or bicycle, although there are automobiles. The Mercy Journals work on two levels: as a cautionary tale and as an examination of one man’s struggle to find meaning in life. The two levels work beautifully together.