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Mercy Gene

Mercy Gene

224 pages
Published:   March 14, 2023
Fiction  /  Queer Lit  /  Novels
Paperback:   9781773102948    $22.95

Think Maggie Nelson meets Hannah Gadsby.

Told in kaleidoscopic bursts of erratic recollections, daydreams, poetry, and lists, Mercy Gene is the powerful, genre-smashing debut work of auto-fiction by acclaimed writer, playwright, and comedian JD Derbyshire. Inspired by Derbyshire’s critically acclaimed and award-winning stage play, Certified, and anchored by protagonist Janice/Jan/JD, Mercy Gene is a beautiful, humorous, and sometimes brutal look at queerness, gender confusion, institutionalization, addiction, and abuse.

Through flashes of memory and imaginings, Derbyshire illustrates the intense and invisible “side effects” of psychiatric treatment and the unreliability of memory. In a stream-of-conscious narrative that provokes and consoles, eliciting tears and laughter at equal pace, Derbyshire re-examines a life of unspoken and repressed trauma. Between devastating bouts of depression, hilarious side-quests into the author’s dryly sardonic inner monologue, helpless moments at the mercy of their own psyche, and tour-de-force appearances by fictional versions of Miriam Toews and the late, great Margot Kidder, Derbyshire leads readers through a non-linear narrative to treatment, forgiveness, and acceptance.
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JD Derbyshire (they/them) is a Vancouver-based comedian, theatre maker, writer, and mad activist whose work examines mental health, neurodiversity, queerness, and gender exploration. Derbyshire has toured Canada as a stand-up comedian and solo performer; has written over twenty plays that have been produced by companies in Victoria, Calgary, Toronto, and Vancouver; and co-hosts the mental health podcast Mad Practice. Their play Certified, which served as partial inspiration for Mercy Gene, turns the audience into a mental health review board to determine Derbyshire’s sanity by the end of the show. Certified won two Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards in Vancouver and was described by the Georgia Straight as “a testament to a dynamic performance and delicate storytelling.” Mercy Gene is Derbyshire’s first novel.


“Brilliant and heart-searing, Mercy Gene is about what it means to be ensnared by others’ hard definitions of who you are as you desperately try to stay inside a brain, a body, a life. With the insight and charisma of a god, Derbyshire undresses language to get to the very marrow of their experience. Their wisdom is the rare kind that comes from the dangerous and costly brink-of-sanity, brink-of-death view. As I read, I wanted to slow myself down so I could spend more time inside their perfect, sonic sentences. Derbyshire writes radiantly and hilariously from the padded rooms, the crawl spaces, the edges of the known world. Theirs is a fierce and beautiful account of what it means to be an artist, a mother, and a human when you cannot be drawn or, too often, even seen inside the lines. A supernova of a book, to read Mercy Gene is to be changed by it.” — Claudia Dey, author of Heartbreaker

“The DNA of Mercy Gene is a dizzying double helix of creative gusto, funhouse humour, hard-won wisdom, and ferocious empathy. After reading Derbyshire’s sui generis autofiction, I was on bended knees — not pleading for mercy but begging for more of their trail-blazing truth-telling. Mercy Gene will set minds and hearts afire.” — Zsuzsi Gartner, author of The Beguiling

Mercy Gene is an incredible book that lifted me right up off the ground and away to other places both hard and soft. It’s essential reading for anyone wanting to know what the agony of psychic pain is really like, but it’s also very funny. Thank you, thank you to JD for this ferocious, devastating and illuminating, tender and vulnerable, mountain peak and universal embrace of a book and for being in the world. Exquisite.” — Miriam Toews, author of Fright Night

Mercy Gene is a book to carry with you forever. Like a smooth and lucky stone in your pocket, or a poem you memorized so you could always read it back to yourself. So much of this prose is pure poetry. Lists, quips, quotes, and micro stories cross-stitched into a shifty masterpiece that tells us the unadorned true story of one person’s dance with mental health, pharmaceuticals, and themself.” — Ivan Coyote, author of Care Of

“Derbyshire’s affecting, insightful and informative memoir does not hide from horror nor suggest any easy fixes. A reader’s pleasure, though, comes with seeing one victory over tremendously long odds.” — Vancouver Sun

“This book is as uplifting as it is provocative, as wise as it is chaotic, as funny as it is tear-inducing.” — Atlantic Books Today

“Derbyshire’s autofiction succeeds on the strength of its earnest creativity and profound convictions. It is an exciting, suggestive work of art, bringing readers out to the borderlands of thinking and healing.” — Literary Review of Canada