So much can happen in one day. And when it comes to Eddie Joyce’s first novel, so much is remembered in one day: Small Mercies is the story of the Amedolas, an Irish-Italian family living on Staten Island. The story is set in the current day, but it stretches back through generations with a particular emphasis on September 11, 2001, the day they lost Bobby—he was a firefighter, but he was also a son, brother, father and husband.
Losing Bobby is the pebble dropped in the middle of this plotline—everything centers on that day, but its ripples extend into both the present and the past. This is an intergenerational story of family dynamics that’s layered, complicated and intensely readable.
Staten Island features as more than a setting. It’s the heart of the family, what they cling to for stability, especially after they lose Bobby. The fact that they all grew up watching New York City without being a part of it stands in harsh relief against the reality that their favorite son was lost protecting it. Firefighting was a family business, and the idea that you can save others but you can’t save yourself is a metaphor that informs the rest of the book.
Just as this family’s history is a huge part of their story, so are their shortcomings. Because the novel is told from the perspectives of different family members, we have a clear view into each person’s private sins. This isn’t a novel that paints people as saints and sinners; every character here comes complete with individual triumphs and failures. We see in detail the way coping mechanisms drive the Amedolas apart and bring them back together in a way that, far from being unique to them, is part of the fabric of every close family.