Toni Morrison has made a ferociously beautiful new work ... Readers are plunged into the present-tense blood and sweat of it—slave trade, turf wars, religious sectarianism, sex, childbirth, food, drink, weather, farming, building, pestilence—and in Europe, class struggle and executions as entertainment. Morrison burns these particulars into us, through her astonishing story ... What flood a reader's senses are Morrison's women and men: black, red and white; slaves, indentured and free—deeply inhabited, complexly human, furiously willful, conveyed through whip-crack language. Morrison may imbue characters with a more modern habit of intellection than her setting warrants, but that's quibbling. A Mercy accomplishes art's miracle: Swept head-on into the brutal specificity of a place and era, we are forced to own it.
A Mercy has neither the terrible passion of Beloved—how many times can we ask a writer to go to such a place?—nor the spirited ingenuity of Love, the most satisfying of Morrison’s subsequent novels. But it’s her deepest excavation into America’s history ... Postcolonialists and feminists, perhaps even Greens and Marxists, may latch onto A Mercy, but they should latch with care, lest Morrison prove too many-minded for them. This novel isn’t a polemic—does anybody really need to be persuaded that exploitation is evil?—but a tragedy ... In Morrison’s latest version of pastoral, it’s only mercy or the lack of it that makes the American landscape heaven or hell, and the gates of Eden open both ways at once.
At its best, Morrison's prose is haunting and dreamlike, and her narrative command is masterly, as she unrelentingly frustrates her characters' aspirations. A Mercy returns to the dark themes of Morrison's earlier novels—racism, violence, lust—but it is also more ambiguous about race relations than her other work, and it expends more energy exploring the related issues of power, poverty and the struggle for personal freedom. With its narrative weft of dependence and salvation, A Mercy is a timely reminder of the fragile hopes that have bound America's inhabitants to each other, from our earliest days into the present.
A Mercy takes us deeper into the bygone than any of Morrison’s previous novels ... In A Mercy, Morrison’s epic sense of place and time overshadows her depiction of people; she does better at finding poetry in this raw, scrappy colonial world than in populating another installment of her noble and necessary fictional project of exposing the infamies of slavery and the hardships of being African-American ... as Morrison moves deeper into a more visionary realism, a betranced pessimism saps her plots of the urgency that hope imparts to human adventures. A Mercy begins where it ends, with a white man casually answering a slave mother’s plea, but he dies, and she fades into slavery’s myriads, and the child goes mad with love. Varied and authoritative and frequently beautiful though the language is, it circles around a vision, both turgid and static, of a new world turning old, and poisoned from the start.
Morrison structures the novel in her familiar manner, giving one chapter by turns to each competing voice, collapsing time frames, seldom letting her characters directly rub up against one another, trapping each of them in their biographies. In this way, she creates something that lives powerfully as an invented oral history and that seems to demand to be taken as a parable, but one whose meaning— which lives in the territory of harshness and sacrifice—is constantly undermined or elusive ... In this book, a good deal of Morrison's stark, almost biblical imaginative power is on display, without all of her former detailing energy ... she is capable of creating fictional environments in which everything can come to seem symbolic[.]
There is too much common ground among these characters for the reader to have an easy time keeping them apart. A little conflict might have helped, but Morrison will not even let them compete for a visiting blacksmith—a free black man and, it would seem, the only attractive male in the New World. Perhaps this tendency to idealize the exploited is part of our literary tradition as a whole ... Morrison, too, is so busy showcasing her characters’ nobility that we get little sense of what hardship can really do to the human spirit ... A Mercy might still have held the reader’s attention had it ignored the contemporary taboo against straightforward, sequential storytelling. But this is in effect a series of backstories, some told in the narrator’s affected voice, some in the characters’ scatty idiom, but all moving at the same uninvolving expository trot. Back and forth the book goes over the same period, summing up this life, then that, with more crude sarcasm brought to bear on colonial society...than sincere effort to understand it ... Months, years, and entire character transformations are dispatched in a few enumerative sentences ... A Mercy is eked out with a few set pieces, but even they rush us through; the book never seems to settle into narrative 'real time.' For all its cheerlessness, the novel is anything but grittily realistic. Some scenes, such as one in which a character gets out of her bath 'aslide with wintergreen,' evince an effort to make even these miserable lives picturesque. But Morrison’s failure to evoke the period is more the fault of her all-too-contemporary prose style[.]
There is the faintest whiff of the moralizer in the final pages of Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison's short but stunning new novel, A Mercy ... Morrison's story unfolds in overlapping perspectives and is carried forward by astonishingly beautiful, often incantatory language that summons vivid dreamscapes and suggests an American history that seems more emotionally and physically real than reality itself. In A Mercy, Morrison creates a vast living, breathing world in very few pages. It is a marvel.
Toni Morrison’s A Mercy is told in a beautiful yet devastatingly honest way. Each narrative voice is distinct, adding enormous depth to the whole right down to the last voice with its final poignant message. It is an outstanding novel.
Morrison's ... A Mercy is an easy and seductive read, though its structure has much in common with earlier, more challenging, offerings. As with Love, its narrative structure builds, 'like a crystal;' the characters' stories gradually converge around central themes to create the power of the overall narrative, and so the ending is both devastating and satisfying. As always with Morrison, the language here is so rich that it takes a careful read in order to fully appreciate the density of images and vivid specificity of the detail. A Mercy is a stunning and significant book that fills an essential gap in the American story.
In its first pages, Morrison’s latest novel seems to be a retread of the author’s old themes, settings, and narrative voice; however, it quickly achieves its own brilliant identity ... poetic ... [a] short but deeply involving story. A fitting companion to her highly regarded Beloved.
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.
Gorgeous language and powerful understanding of the darkest regions in the human heart compensate for the slightly schematic nature of the characters and the plot. Better seen as a lengthy prose poem than a novel, this allusive, elusive little gem adds its own shadowy luster to the Nobel laureate’s shimmering body of work.