A Mercy by Toni Morrison

“Don’t be afraid. My telling can’t hurt you in spite of what I have done and I promise to lie quietly in the dark – weeping perhaps or occaisonally seeing the blood once more – but I will never again unfold my limbs to rise up and bare teeth. I explain. 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. Stranger things happen all the time everywhere. You know. I know you know.”

I had to read this for my literature class, and since I have a bad history with required reading, this book didn’t thrill me as much as it probably would have if I’d read it on my own.

Here’s what I know for sure: it’s really well done historic fiction, all the characters are nicely created even if I didn’t particularly like any of them, and while I was reading the book I was mostly thinking to myself, “well, I’m not hating this” which means if I was reading it of my own volition I’d probably be going “yeah, I like this!” for all 167 pages. Which brings me to my next point:

Only 167 pages? Really? I felt like this book should be marketed as young adult fiction because it’s just so short. Because the story is really more of a novella, and there are so many interesting characters, reading this felt at times like reading the abridged version of the actual book. Not even that – this was “A Mercy – the Cliff Notes”. For example, Morrison spends an entire 26-page chapter telling us all about a character, setting up his personality and circumstances, and then in the very next chapter he’s dead of smallpox. Wait, what?

Morrison does a good job with the few pages she uses, but it always felt like there was a lot more to this story that got cut out. Maybe Morrison wanted to keep it short, or maybe she got 1/4 of the way through her sprawling slave narrative and just said, “Fuck it, that’s good enough. Time for lunch” and then sent it off the the printer. And they printed it, because she is Toni Morrison and you do not mess with that woman.

Verdict: three out of five stars

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