Daniel's Reviews > A Mercy

A Mercy by Toni Morrison
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's review
Aug 04, 2011

really liked it
Read from July 28 to 31, 2011

"A Mercy" is a book of glimpses into the lives of people who are connected by slavery and the demands of a farm that is located in an undeveloped region of Northern America circa 1680. In the first glimpse, a narrator speaks of regret and change and portents, of sickness and love and hurt. The language is odd and beautiful, combining long sentences that rush to their conclusion while stumbling over incorrect tenses and grammar that punctuate the prose like freckles on someone's skin. The story is disconnected and difficult, darting from one topic to another, piling symbols and words atop one another so that one can do nothing but give in and take in what is being said. The narrative breaks, and Morrison switches to the third person, introducing a new character and a setting that is much more familiar. More characters follow, and the where and the why of the story start to coalesce, while the inner lives of the characters stretch out and brush against each other with hazy understandings and inchoate motivations.

"A Mercy" is 196 pages long and the text is printed in a large size with ample white space; were this printed in the usual cramped style, the book would probably be less than half its length. In other words, this is a small work, more a novella than a novel (but, if you're gonna charge 15 a pop, as Vintage has in this edition, the latter heading is more justifiable). Into this diminutive vessel, Morrison pours an incredible amount of story and reflection and well-worked language, developing a fictional world that is voluptuous, mysterious, and poignant. Excepting the first-person narrator, who moves in and out of the story, Morrison devotes a single section to each character, writing each section in the limited third-person. And, in each, Morrison strides through the emotional and historical life of her character with remarkable insight and economy.

Reading this work stretched my emotions more than many books ten times the size ever did, and when I finished it, I turned back to the beginning and re-read the sections that bewildered me--especially the first. This time, I not only understood the narrative, I think that I grasped one of Morrison's observations: some stories are furious and wounded and beyond our reach without an overarching eye that only fiction can provide us.

Morrison is a writer who has that eye, and the words to describe what she has seen.
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07/28/2011 page 42

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