There’s a reason why Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize. It’s true that I don’t always understand what is going on in her books, but I think that I’ve read all of them and enjoyed most of them. I once took a class on Toni Morrison and Willa Cather. I have forgotton why those two authors were combined and we didn’t do too much comparison. Maybe it was the strong female characters or their sense of place. Anyway, whenever I read Morrison, I think that everything she writes has a purpose and a deeper meaning even if I can’t figure it out for myself. For example, a name is never just a name. I’d love to hear Morrison talk about how she decides what to name each character. Does she have a story in mind before she names the characters or does she come up with the characters first? Here’s a review of A Mercy that I did for my work blog:
Reading Toni Morrison is like taking a master class in how to write characters. Morrison delves deep into the psyche of her characters and finds that raw, vulnerable place in each one. Morrison gathers together an uncommon group who have been cast off from society. Even though he abhors slavery, Jacob Vaark, a northern trader and money-lender, accepts a young girl, Florens, as partial payment of her master’s debt. Jacob had asked for her mother but she was still nursing her infant son and asked Jacob to take Florens instead. Jacob brings Florens back to his wife, who bore 4 children none of which lived beyond the age of 5. He hopes that the young girl might lift her spirits. Morrison’s supporting characters are no less compelling. Lina is the sole survivor of a small-pox outbreak in her village and Sorrow claims to have washed ashore on the back of a whale. Jacob gathers these outcasts around him, but it is clear when he becomes ill that he is the one thing that holds them together. Set in the late 17th century, A Mercy is a novel about survival and Morrison does an excellent job of illustrating the turbulence and danger of that time.
Reading Toni Morrison’s work is never easy, but this book is easier to read than some of her others. I found that I couldn’t put it down and when I finished the last chapter, I immediately went back and re-read the first.