Monday, December 29, 2008

Toni Morrison: a mercy

Toni Morrison is a cornerstone of modern literature, or at least, modern literature as I understand it. "Beloved" was one of the first books I remember rereading, and rereading because I knew that I would learn more from it the second and third time. OK, and because one of those re-reads was required for high school (middle school? who can remember). I have picked up various Morrison books over the years and been moved by her language, her images, her portrayal of voices that don't get voiced. "a mercy" is a disappointment in this way: Morrison seems to be feeling out some new voices, but leaves them undeveloped. We get a chapter or two from each voice, but not enough to love them or care about them deeply.

The book is just too short: barely 150 pages, in large font, and it's more of a novella than a novel. I wanted to know more about this early 18th century world Morrison has created, but there just wasn't time. Morrison unfolds an intriguing tale about a mostly woman-headed family complete with a Native American girl, a sort-of-ex-slave, an orphaned white "half-wit" and the matriarch, a happily immigrated English "mail order bride" who loves her new life. "Sir" is some kind of pisspoor farmer/trader/is he involved in the slave trade now? With "Beloved", I felt if I read and reread the book, I could learn more clues about the characters. I'd know who Lina's man was, I'd know more about Florens' "a minha mae", and about Sorrow's previous life. With "a mercy," I feel like I'd just spend another two hours enthralled with Morrison's beautiful writing, and left very short of satisfied.