Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Mercy by Toni Morrison

Set in the wilderness of colonial America, Toni Morrison's exquisite short novel, A Mercy, reminded me of one of her earlier books, Beloved. An enslaved mother feels that she must make an unthinkable choice, one that will have long-reaching ramifications. The point of view shifts between characters of various ethnic backgrounds who are landowners, indentured workers and slaves. Morrison explores love in its many guises, between parents and children, husband and wife, gay men, close friends, and the unrequited kind too.

I listened to the Random House audiobook [6.5 hours], narrated by the author. Morrison has a beautiful, rich voice that, unfortunately, tended to lull my brain into a drowsy state. A Mercy is compelling enough to have kept me from daydreaming, but there were some close calls. I also had to work to figure out who was speaking every time the narrative shifted, since Morrison does not alter her voice for different characters.

It's unusual for me to listen to two books in a row with a similar setting, yet A Mercy and Year of Wonders both take place in the 17th century. I appreciated that the women in both books act like they belong to their time, not like modern women who have been plunked down in the midst of historical trappings. In A Mercy, Rebekka travels from England to the colonies in order to wed a stranger, believing that of her three options -- servant, prostitute, or wife -- the last is the safest option, although she is well aware that this will depend on the "character of the man in charge."

Rebekka's male siblings had "learned from her father their dismissive attitude toward the sister who had helped rear them." I came across a similar sentiment in Are You My Mother? in the part where Alison Bechdel asked her mother "What's the main thing you learned from your mother?" Her immediate reply: "That boys are more important than girls." Will that ever change? I hope so.

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