The Mercy Rule


Lucy Weiss is funny, fierce, talented and has a certain chip on her
shoulder when it comes to the rich and powerful. Whether it's the
lunatic stockbroker forcing his son to play team sports so that
he'll be attuned to "social baseball" when he gets older, or the
wealthy mom who thinks she can bend the truth about her situation
at home so that Lucy would appear at a custody hearing for her,
there are plenty of self-serving louts who deserve Lucy’s
loathing. However, the steady stream of delinquent and ditzy
patients who march through her office each day don't make a case
for "Parent of the Year." And, if we want to be fair about it,
Lucy's own blunders with her children and husband certainly don't
qualify her for any auspicious awards, either.

THE MERCY RULE, real-life pediatrician/writer Perri Klass's latest
novel, is a heartfelt paen to everyone who has ever borne
offspring, adopted children or just hoped to give another
generation a chance that their own wasn't offered.

Having a gifted son with undiagnosed issues (she never goes into
what their legion of doctors had determined about young Freddy's
uniqueness) and a prepubescent daughter just scaling the mountains
of social issues that face American girls, the good doctor is up to
her armpits in the dirty business of complicated and conditional
love. Her husband Greg is a nice guy, a college professor who, we
later learn, has improprieties of his own to handle and for which
to beg her forgiveness. Lucy is a foster child, and a lucky one at
that. Having survived by virtue of a kind and loving teacher who
adopted her in grade school, she has decided to give back to all
those kids who may not be as lucky as her.

So her practice includes a specialty in the care and, well,
"fostering" of foster children. Several of her patients are repeat
customers, and Lucy shows the same concern and love for them that
she shows her own kids, their friends and even the young boy who is
seated next to her on a fateful plane trip to a speaking engagement
in California. Klass gives Lucy intelligence, wit, forthrightness
and the concerns of the modern-day mother, but also saddles her
with some unresolved story issues that are strangely left

When Lucy finds out that her husband cheated on her, it's a
three-sentence reaction. However, later, we find out the extent to
which he cheated on her --- the number of times and the intensity
with which he did --- and this leaves the reader unsure about their
relationship and about Lucy's ability to guide her family through
difficult times. When she is supposed to be taking a day with her
daughter and ends up spending it, Isabel in tow, rushing to the aid
of an off-kilter patient with too many kids and a new pregnancy she
doesn't have the money or wherewithal to deal with properly, it
feels like Lucy is trying to make the rest of the world safer than
the one at home. Does she care more about these youngsters who may
end up in bad foster care than about her own offspring?

Certainly there is a push-and-pull between these issues in her
heart and soul, and many scenes in the book exemplify her split
personality, her attempts to balance out both work and home issues
with love and fairness. Lucy doesn't always succeed, but we have to
give her props for trying. And sometimes Lucy's detestment of those
with serious money, which seems to be most of the families who
attend the private school her children do, is childish and petty.
Not everybody who is rich is bad, but somehow she hasn't learned
this yet.

THE MERCY RULE proffers, for the most part, enlightened and funny
aspects of the daily life of work and kids and what love has REALLY
got to do with it --- which is plenty. Striving for imperfection,
Lucy Weiss, as rendered by Perri Klass, is a heroine for our
post-feminist modern age.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on January 7, 2011

The Mercy Rule

  • Publication Date: July 8, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books
  • ISBN-10: 0547237847
  • ISBN-13: 9780547237848