A Mercy, by Toni Morrison

Book 43

A Mercy was a pick for One Book One Chicago awhile back.  I pulled it off the shelf when I found an audio version, read by the author.

The setting is Virginia, 1680.  a seven-year-old slave is sold away from her mother and brother – at her mother’s request.  The family she lands with is not the worst, but slavery is slavery.  Morrison illustrates beautifully the attachments and detachments and dependence upon the kindness of strangers that is inherent in the institution.

The story is told in multiple voices and doesn’t maintain a linear timeline – which made it harder to follow in audio.  But Morrison seemed to be going for less plot and more.. sensibility.

If there is a main thread, it follows Florens – the seven-year-old now a teenager – who is sent on an errand to find the blacksmith (who is also her lover) who seems to have some secret for curing smallpox.  It has already killed the master of the house and is now taking down the mistress.  The feeling of what the hell will happen to all of these people if she dies is pretty profound.

SPOILER ALERT:  Also profound is the when the blacksmith tells Florens that he doesn’t want to be with her because she will always be a slave.  Emotionally, he meant.

Finally, the las chapter of the book is in the voice of Florens’ mother.  Explaining herself. On one hand, I wish the plot of the story had held together better.  On the other, this fractured short novel probably conveyed more depth of feeling than it could have with twice the length in a single narrative.

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