The Mercy Papers

A Memoir of Three Weeks

The Mercy Papers

When Robin Romm's The Mother Garden was published, The New York Times Book Review called her "a close-up magician," saying, "hers is the oldest kind [of magic] we know: the ordinary incantation of words and stories to help us navigate the darkness and finally to hold the end at bay." In her searing memoir The Mercy Papers, Romm uses this magic to expand the weeks before her mother's death into a story about a daughter in the moments before and after loss.

With a striking mix of humor and honesty, Romm ushers us into a world where an obstinate hospice nurse tries to heal through pamphlets and a yelping grandfather squirrels away money in a shoe-shine kit. Untrained dogs scamper about as strangers and friends rally around death, offering sympathy as they clamor for attention. The pillbox turns quickly into a metaphor for order; questions about medication turn to musings about God. The mundane and spiritual melt together as Romm reveals the sharp truths that lurk around every corner and captures, with great passion, the awe, fear, and fury of a daughter losing her mother.

The Mercy Papers was started in the midst of heartbreak, and not originally intended for an audience. The result is a raw, unsentimental book that reverberates with humanity. Robin Romm has created a tribute to family and an indelible portrait that will speak to anyone who has ever loved and lost.
  • Scribner | 
  • 224 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781416567929 | 
  • December 2009
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Mercy Papers: A Memoir of Three Weeks by Robin Romm includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book. 


Robin’s mother, Jackie, was diagnosed with breast cancer the summer after her freshman year of college. For the past nine years, Jackie has been fighting to manage her disease, but the family believes she has entered its final stages and asks Robin to return home. In the ensuing three weeks Robin, her father, and their friends struggle to come to terms with the approaching loss of Jackie.

Robin Romm provides a savaging and emotionally honest exploration of the devastation she feels as she contemplates the eternal absence of her mother; there is no peace or relief from the pain. In her disavowal of platitudes about the passage of time and its powers to heal, Robin takes us to the dark abyss that haunts any of us who’ve loved and lost. Her wish that her mother’s journey will be of some use to readers is secured as we leave this haunting and unapologetically forthright reality check on the enduring cost of loss.


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More Books from this Author

The Mother Garden

About the Author

Robin Romm
Anne Hayunga

Robin Romm

Robin Romm is the author of the critically acclaimed short story collection, The Mother Garden, which was a finalist for the 2008 PEN USA Fiction Award. Born and raised in Eugene, Oregon, she currently lives in Berkeley, California, and New Mexico, where she is assistant professor of creative writing and literature at the College of Santa Fe.