(Buy it HERE.)
*whew* This ain’t it, y’all.
Toni Morrison was a genius and everything she wrote is brilliant in some way. But now that I’ve said that, I honestly feel that when you place A Mercy next to the rest of Morrison’s oeuvre it’s like parking a hooptie in a lot full of Ferraris.
There’s not much in the way of plot here but what there is, is focused on slave girl Florens going to fetch a free African blacksmith who practices herbal medicine so he can save her owner’s farm from a plague of smallpox. Ostensibly, that’s the story, but really the book is built of the characters telling their trauma narratives of how they came to the farm. A Mercy is scattered across half a dozen POVs belonging to an ersatz “family” made up of a slave owning couple, a pair of European indentured servants on loan to the farm and several slaves, both indigenous and African. It’s set in pre-colonial 1690s Virginia.
I can’t say that I didn’t like this at all, but frankly it seems unfinished to me. It lacks focus and clarity and reads like a 165-page draft, a collection of broad plot strokes and character sketches from what should have perhaps been a much longer and deeper work. It is interesting to visit America in its infancy and see the lines of justice and injustice that grew to define the country being drawn. We tend to think of chattel slavery as a very static, unchanging institution in our history but it lasted for 400 years and has a history of its own. Slavery in A Mercy is far different than slavery is 200 years later in Morrison’s classic work Beloved, and realizing that was the most intriguing part of this book.
It took me almost 3 weeks to read less than 200 pages because of how diffuse and incomplete they seemed. Brilliant compared to everybody else, but this is Morrison’s worst.
3 stars and a freelance copyedit to A Mercy.
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