Monday, December 22, 2008

A Mercy

A Mercy by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison is one of my favorite authors, but I really don't keep track of upcoming novels, so I was actually surprised to discover she had a new one - while she may be brillant, she hasn't exactly been prolific over the past thirty years.

When I read the first page, I was actually kind of intimated, and wasn't sure if I could handle anything quite that deep at the moment (stream of consciousness), but fortunately, she switches between narrators, and the others are much easier to understand than Florens. And even Florens becomes much easier to understand as the novel progresses, since the other chapters explain many of the things she had been referencing.

Since the narrative shifts in time, it is interesting to see where certain characters started and ended up. At first, Jacob is a modest trader, but in his chapter, which also takes place earliest chronologically, it is easy to see where the seed is planted that turns him into the man he became. After a confrontation with a rich planter, Jacob realizes that he, too, can own those types of things, and he becomes slightly obsessed with possessions. It is strongly suggested that he compromises his principles for his success, since during the last parts of his chapter, he is considering making money off slave trade in Barbados, and eight years later, he has the money to build a huge house.

For the most part, however, the narrative focuses on the women, their relationships and their pasts. Florens is shaped by the fact that her mother seemingly chose her brother over her, and gave her up (although anyone who knows Morrison or Beloved, and the extremes that a mother would do for her children in slavery will doubt that it is as simple as Florens believes). Lina takes on the role of a foster mother for her, and Sorrow is the odd one out at the farm. Through the events of the novel and Jacob's death, all these characters are transformed and find their positions and bonds much less stable than they thought.

After seeing Sorrow portrayed as the odd, crazy one who brings bad luck for most of the novel, I actually really enjoyed her perspective. I also enjoyed Rachel's chapter a lot, even though I hated what happened to her character.

However, I am not going to say too much more about this since I already read a review that pretty much says everything I could possibly say about this novel, and much better. I definitely recommend checking it out (the review and the novel).

With that, I'll wrap it up with a quote from the novel:
To be given dominion over another is a hard thing; to wrest dominion over another is a wrong thing; to give dominion of yourself to another is a wicked thing.

No comments: