Jim Grimsley's Reviews > A Mercy
Jim Grimsley's review
Jan 05, 2021
One of those moments in reading in which I remember why I fell in love with books in the first place. It's been a while since I read Toni Morrison. This novel is short, intense, almost perfect. I read it just after finishing Juneteenth and the contrast is remarkable. The narrative moves in the most surefooted way from one time to another, from one character to another, with an effortless, masterly air. If you think an historical novel must be big, overblown with detail, you should find this slim volume and allow it to teach you. Morrison displays a certainty about the period, which is complex, messy, full of strangeness, our history but not one we discuss very often. A few decades after European colonization brings forced labor of all kinds to bear on the transformation of the American landscape, a Dutch farmer takes a wife, buys an Indian slave, is given a wild girl, and receives a young black girl as payment for a debt. There is a momentary resemblance to Beloved in the choice of a slave mother to give away her daughter in order to protect her - the book jacket copy makes mention of this - but this book stands perfectly on its own. This is a microcosm of women who, for a while, create their own world, with the Dutch husband at the center (because he has to be), with everyone taking a role, finding something of peace for a space. Nothing sentimental about this accident. They simply find a moment in which they can breathe before more disaster overtakes them again, the death of the Dutchman, the illness of his wife. Somewhere in all that the book begins, but its weaving back in time makes the journey rich with small repetitions, repeated moments, events viewed through different eyes. It cannot end happily. We feel this as a decision of the author. That is the only artificial tone I found. But the hard world consumes them, and that's right, one understands it; this was that kind of era. This is a magical book and I am grateful to have encountered it.
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January 5, 2021 – Shelved