Book Club

Book Club’s next read is ‘Small Mercies’ by Dennis Lehane

Join the live author discussion with Serena Longo from Harvard Book Store, on June 27, at 5 p.m.

For our June book club pick, we’re turning to one of the masters of Boston fiction with Dennis Lehane’s latest novel, “Small Mercies.” Debuting in late April, “Small Mercies” is Lehane’s first book since 2017, and the standalone thriller was an instant New York Times bestseller. 

The book follows Mary Pat Fennessy during the summer of 1974 around the Southie neighborhoods that she’s called home her entire life. Mary Pat doesn’t have much, but she and her daughter Jules get by. Everyone in Southie knows Mary Pat, and Mary Pat knows them all, too, but when Jules doesn’t return home one night, information is suddenly hard to come by. When Brian, the top lieutenant for Marty Butler, chieftain of the Irish mob, asks her to give him 24 hours to find out more, Mary Pat waits patiently. But when those 24 hours pass with nary an answer, Mary Pat reaches her boiling point, and the decisions she makes in its wake will make her hard road infinitely harder.


Of course, most book lovers and Bostonians are more than familiar with Lehane’s work. His novels include Gone, Baby, Gone, Live by Night, Shutter Island, and of course, the masterpiece, Mystic River. Beyond his 15 novels, Lehane is also well known for his work as a writer on “The Wire,” and has also written or worked on several other TV shows, including “Boardwalk Empire,” “Mr. Mercedes,” and “Black Bird,” the latter of which he created. 

It’s really nice to have a new Lehane book on the bookshelves, and in Small Mercies, it’s clear right from the jump that he has not lost his fastball. While the book is a brutal crime drama, it is also an unflinching look at the ugly racism that engulfed Boston that summer – when the ruling for Boston to desegregate its schools through busing its students devolved into a crisis that still reverberates through the city to this day.

The book hits with the force of a sledgehammer in all respects, and it succeeds resoundingly. It lays bare what Boston was in August 1974, and often still is. While it never strays far from hope, that hope remains largely abstract and unrealized, and what’s left is a cold world where the poor are ground to dust no matter their race. Lehane draws you in and doesn’t let go. I finished the book in two sittings.


I’m not alone in loving the book, as notable authors and media review outlets have lined up to sing its praises, including bestselling authors like Stephen King, Jacqueline Woodson, J. Courtney Sullivan, Gillian Flynn, and S.A. Cosby, and outlets like the Wall St. Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Kirkus Reviews, and right here at The Boston Globe.

Woodson said, “I was blown away by how Dennis Lehane was able to bring such a deeply unfamiliar world into my heart. Small Mercies is hilarious and heartbreaking, infuriating and unforgettable.” Cosby praised Lehane for the way he “peels back the layers of his characters like a sculptor finding the face of an angel in a block of stone. By a true master at the top of his game, Small Mercies is vintage Lehane. Beautiful, brutal, lyrical, and blisteringly honest. Not to be missed.” 

In a  Boston Globe review Daneet Steffens wrote, “As always, Lehane is terrific at finely drawn character sketches thrumming with both immediacy and humor. The kaleidoscope of portraits running through “Small Mercies” is by turns funny and chilling.”

Joining Dennis for this conversation will be Serena Longo, communications and people operations manager for Harvard Book Store. Longo has been with the store for 11 years and has worn just about every hat there is, most notably in marketing and events, where she spent the four years prior to last summer as the manager. A graduate of both Ithaca College and the Denver Publishing Institute, Longo transitioned into her current role last summer. It affords her the chance to focus on internal communication, company policy, and staff and manager support. In other words, her people. 


“Book people are the best people,” Longo told me in an email. “In my years working in the industry I’ve had the privilege of being surrounded by wonderful colleagues who care deeply about books, bookstores, and their fellow booksellers, so I’m glad to spend my days doing what I can to make their jobs a little bit easier.” 

Just as Lehane is a local institution, so is Harvard Book Store. In business in Harvard Square since 1932, the store is a treasure and has been recognized for its prowess many times over, most notably in 2002 when it won the coveted “Bookstore of the Year” Award (then called the “Bookseller of the Year” Award). Readers go gaga for their warehouse sales, and its events program is one of the jewels of the entire bookselling community.

Join Dennis and Serena on Tuesday, June 27th, at 5 p.m., as they discuss Dennis’ marvelous novel!

Buy “Small Mercies” from: Bookshop | Harvard Book Store

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