Saturday, June 27, 2009

a mercy - Toni Morrison

"You can think what I tell you a confession, if you like, but one full of curiosities familiar only in dreams and during those moments when a dog's profile plays in the steam of a kettle. Or when a corn-husk doll sitting on a shelf is soon splaying in the corner of a room and the wicked of how it got there is plain." p 3

Florens is a slave, given away by her owner to pay a debt to one, Jacob Vaark, landowner. She's brought to his plot and works off the land along with several other women of varied backgrounds. Rebekkah, Jacob's wife who "shat among strangers for six weeks to get to this land"; Lina, a native whose tribe was killed by disease; and Sorrow who never has much to say, having been rescued from a shipwreck against her will. While trying to survive, Florens finds love and loss, with the women of Vaark's land having to fend for themselves.

Morrison conveys the reality of a virgin landscape, offering a brief glimpse of a land still wild, the harsh realities of digging out a life in the 1600s. Her writing, almost more like poetry in this work, has a fluid rolling quality that softly tickles the mind with description and dialogue. Her artistry is evident in that she writes in several voices, all with their own rhythms and cadences. These voices are more often than not dwarfed by the landscape though this is perhaps fitting. Back then the land was as much a threat to survival as was bad weather and illness.

One problem with the book is the beginning. An unknown speaker confesses to an act of violence. The form and meaning of this convoluted explanation only become clear towards the end of the book. A reader shouldn't have to struggle that hard just to get into a book. It was a bold move on Morrison's part, trying the intelligence of readers but in the end, fails to pull the reader in.

"a mercy" is an interesting glimpse into the world of slavery in the 1600s. Morrison paints a stark picture about the fragility of survival and the delicate nature of the human heart.

Rating: 3.5/5

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