From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Nobel laureate Morrison returns more explicitly to the net of pain cast by slavery, a theme she detailed so memorably in Beloved
. Set at the close of the 17th century, the book details America's untoward foundation: dominion over Native Americans, indentured workers, women and slaves. A slave at a plantation in Maryland offers up her daughter, Florens, to a relatively humane Northern farmer, Jacob, as debt payment from their owner. The ripples of this choice spread to the inhabitants of Jacob's farm, populated by women with intersecting and conflicting desires. Jacob's wife, Rebekka, struggles with her faith as she loses one child after another to the harsh New World. A Native servant, Lina, survivor of a smallpox outbreak, craves Florens's love to replace the family taken from her, and distrusts the other servant, a peculiar girl named Sorrow. When Jacob falls ill, all these women are threatened. Morrison's lyricism infuses the shifting voices of her characters as they describe a brutal society being forged in the wilderness. Morrison's unflinching narrative is all the more powerful for its relative brevity; it takes hold of the reader and doesn't let go until the wrenching final-page crescendo. (Nov.)
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Several reviewers ranked A Mercy
near the top of Toni Morrison's catalogue—an impressive feat. Given the subject of slavery, comparisons with Beloved
are inevitable; critics tended to think of A Mercy
as a more compact companion piece to that work. Many reviewers also noted that A Mercy
is more accessible than Morrison's other novels that were written since she won the Nobel Prize, showing that the award does not, in fact, curse its recipients with literary decline. But a few reviewers also noted the inevitable deference given to an author like Morrison. Some sections of A Mercy
may seem obscure, they suggested, but that obscurity simply indicates that those sections deserve another read. The reviewer from the Dallas Morning News
summed it up nicely: this novel is more accessible than Morrison's recent work, and is all the better for it. But there is still plenty of allusion and poetry so that you won't forget who you're reading—or why there may be a few passages that you're rereading.
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