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2 Beaverton Literature- A to Z
2 Burnside Literature- A to Z

A Mercy: A Novel

by

A Mercy: A Novel Cover

ISBN13: 9780307264237
ISBN10: 0307264238
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Excerpt

Don't be afraid. My telling can't hurt you in spite of what I have done and I promise to lie quietly in the dark--weeping perhaps or occasionally seeing the blood once more--but I will never again unfold my limbs to rise up and bare teeth. I explain. You can think what I tell you a confession, if you like, but one full of curiosities familiar only in dreams and during those moments when a dog's profile plays in the steam of a kettle. Or when a corn-husk doll sitting on a shelf is soon splaying in the corner of a room and the wicked of how it got there is plain. Stranger things happen all the time everywhere. You know. I know you know. One question is who is responsible? Another is can you read? If a pea hen refuses to brood I read it quickly and, sure enough, that night I see a minha mãe standing hand in hand with her little boy, my shoes jamming the pocket of her apron. Other signs need more time to understand. Often there are too many signs, or a bright omen clouds up too fast. I sort them and try to recall, yet I know I am missing much, like not reading the garden snake crawling up to the door saddle to die. Let me start with what I know for certain.

The beginning begins with the shoes. When a child I am never able to abide being barefoot and always beg for shoes, anybody's shoes, even on the hottest days. My mother, a minha mãe, is frowning, is angry at what she says are my prettify ways. Only bad women wear high heels. I am dangerous, she says, and wild but she relents and lets me wear the throwaway shoes from Senhora's house, pointy-toe, one raised heel broke, the other worn and a buckle on top. As a result, Lina says, my feet are useless, will always be too tender for life and never have the strong soles, tougher than leather, that life requires. Lina is correct. Florens, she says, it's 1690. Who else these days has the hands of a slave and the feet of a Portuguese lady? So when I set out to find you, she and Mistress give me Sir's boots that fit a man not a girl. They stuff them with hay and oily corn husks and tell me to hide the letter inside my stocking--no matter the itch of the sealing wax. I am lettered but I do not read what Mistress writes and Lina and Sorrow cannot. But I know what it means to say to any who stop me.

My head is light with the confusion of two things, hunger for you and scare if I am lost. Nothing frights me more than this errand and nothing is more temptation. From the day you disappear I dream and plot. To learn where you are and how to be there. I want to run across the trail through the beech and white pine but I am asking myself which way? Who will tell me? Who lives in the wilderness between this farm and you and will they help me or harm me? What about the boneless bears in the valley? Remember? How when they move their pelts sway as though there is nothing underneath? Their smell belying their beauty, their eyes knowing us from when we are beasts also. You telling me that is why it is fatal to look them in the eye. They will approach, run to us to love and play which we misread and give back fear and anger. Giant birds also are nesting out there bigger than cows, Lina says, and not all natives are like her, she says, so watch out. A praying savage, neighbors call her, because she is once churchgoing yet she bathes herself every day and Christians never do. Underneath she wears bright blue beads and dances in secret at first light when the moon is small. More than fear of loving bears or birds bigger than cows, I fear pathless night. How, I wonder, can I find you in the dark? Now at last there is a way. I have orders. It is arranged. I will see your mouth and trail my fingers down. You will rest your chin in my hair again while I breathe into your shoulder in and out, in and out. I am happy the world is breaking open for us, yet its newness trembles me. To get to you I must leave the only home, the only people I know. Lina says from the state of my teeth I am maybe seven or eight when I am brought here. We boil wild plums for jam and cake eight times since then, so I must be sixteen. Before this place I spend my days picking okra and sweeping tobacco sheds, my nights on the floor of the cookhouse with a minha mãe. We are baptized and can have happiness when this life is done. The Reverend Father tells us that. Once every seven days we learn to read and write. We are forbidden to leave the place so the four of us hide near the marsh. My mother, me, her little boy and Reverend Father. He is forbidden to do this but he teaches us anyway watching out for wicked Virginians and Protestants who want to catch him. If they do he will be in prison or pay money or both. He has two books and a slate. We have sticks to draw through sand, pebbles to shape words on smooth flat rock. When the letters are memory we make whole words. I am faster than my mother and her baby boy is no good at all. Very quickly I can write from memory the Nicene Creed including all of the commas. Confession we tell not write as I am doing now. I forget almost all of it until now. I like talk. Lina talk, stone talk, even Sorrow talk. Best of all is your talk. At first when I am brought here I don't talk any word. All of what I hear is different from what words mean to a minha mãe and me. Lina's words say nothing I know. Nor Mistress's. Slowly a little talk is in my mouth and not on stone. Lina says the place of my talking on stone is Mary's Land where Sir does business. So that is where my mother and her baby boy are buried. Or will be if they ever decide to rest. Sleeping on the cookhouse floor with them is not as nice as sleeping in the broken sleigh with Lina. In cold weather we put planks around our part of the cowshed and wrap our arms together under pelts. We don't smell the cow flops because they are frozen and we are deep under fur. In summer if our hammocks are hit by mosquitoes Lina makes a cool place to sleep out of branches. You never like a hammock and prefer the ground even in rain when Sir offers you the storehouse. Sorrow no more sleeps near the fireplace. The men helping you, Will and Scully, never live the night here because their master does not allow it. You remember them, how they would not take orders from you until Sir makes them? He could do that since they are exchange for land under lease from Sir. Lina says Sir has a clever way of getting without giving. I know it is true because I see it forever and ever. Me watching, my mother listening, her baby boy on her hip. Senhor is not paying the whole amount he owes to Sir. Sir saying he will take instead the woman and the girl, not the baby boy and the debt is gone. A minha mãe begs no. Her baby boy is still at her breast. Take the girl, she says, my daughter, she says. Me. Me. Sir agrees and changes the balance due. As soon as tobacco leaf is hanging to dry Reverend Father takes me on a ferry, then a ketch, then a boat and bundles me between his boxes of books and food. The second day it becomes hurting cold and I am happy I have a cloak however thin. Reverend Father excuses himself to go elsewhere on the boat and tells me to stay exact where I am. A woman comes to me and says stand up. I do and she takes my cloak from my shoulders. Then my wooden shoes. She walks away. Reverend Father turns a pale red color when he returns and learns what happens. He rushes all about asking where and who but can find no answer. Finally he takes rags, strips of sailcloth lying about and wraps my feet. Now I am knowing that unlike with Senhor, priests are unlove here. A sailor spits into the sea when Reverend Father asks him for help. Reverend Father is the only kind man I ever see. When I arrive here I believe it is the place he warns against. The freezing in hell that comes before the everlasting fire where sinners bubble and singe forever. But the ice comes first, he says. And when I see knives of it hanging from the houses and trees and feel the white air burn my face I am certain the fire is coming. Then Lina smiles when she looks at me and wraps me for warmth. Mistress looks away. Nor is Sorrow happy to see me. She flaps her hand in front of her face as though bees are bothering her. She is ever strange and Lina says she is once more with child. Father still not clear and Sorrow does not say. Will and Scully laugh and deny. Lina believes it is Sir's. Says she has her reason for thinking so. When I ask what reason she says he is a man. Mistress says nothing. Neither do I. But I have a worry. Not because our work is more, but because mothers nursing greedy babies scare me. I know how their eyes go when they choose. How they raise them to look at me hard, saying something I cannot hear. Saying something important to me, but holding the little boy's hand.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 3 comments:

Erica Horne, April 3, 2009 (view all comments by Erica Horne)
In her latest novel Toni Morrison takes us back to the late 17th century America. The plot gives her an opportunity to present America in the making, there is no US yet, there are colonies, each somewhat different in their culture, religion or attitude to slavery. Sending her characters on distant voyages Morrison adroitly shapes the plot in such a way as to give the reader at least an impression of the variety that America once was. The differences between people and places are the most clearly visible in the opposition between Maryland and New York yet the choice of characters also helps Morrison to stress the diversity of American roots.
And yet "A Mercy" is not just a historical novel. The setting is important but Morrison is much more interested in her characters presented in the novel with depth and insight. This concentration is reflected in the form of the book - we get to know about the events from the characters in a series of monologues which culminate in the final monologue of Florens' mother which ties some of the book's loose ends and answers some of its haunting questions.
Each of the monologues comes from a completely different character - a slave, a native American, a Dutch etc. - this variety is almost incredible but serves to add a depth to the book, broadens the view the reader gets.
As usual in Morrison's fiction the characters are mostly women. As a result the book to some degree fails as a HIStory book, it is much more of a HERstory book, offering the reader a selection of points of view usually missing in more traditional history writing both fictional and scholarly.
In short: another great book from a Nobel-prize winning novelist.
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(5 of 8 readers found this comment helpful)
Beriah, December 25, 2008 (view all comments by Beriah)
This svelte novel is minimalistic like a needle. You will be pierced before you realize what took place. Don't underestimate it.
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(12 of 21 readers found this comment helpful)
tynlyd, December 16, 2008 (view all comments by tynlyd)
Beautiful! A great novel! I haven't liked the last couple she wrote but this one made me read it all in one day. Beautiful language and a great plot!
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780307264237
Author:
Morrison, Toni
Publisher:
Knopf Publishing Group
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Interracial adoption
Subject:
Racism
Subject:
African American girls
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Publication Date:
November 2008
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
176
Dimensions:
9.56x5.88x.88 in. .85 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Featured Titles » Morning News Tournament » Tournament of Books 2009
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

A Mercy: A Novel Used Hardcover
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Product details 176 pages Knopf Publishing Group - English 9780307264237 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

I disappeared into A Mercy like no novel in ages. Morrison's 17th-century panorama builds upon vivid scenes and characters until what emerges is nothing less than the forecast of America — both its ills and dreams.

"Review A Day" by , "What a pleasure...to watch 77-year-old Toni Morrison, the last literary Nobelist (1993) from a culture dismissed this year as 'too insular' to merit the Swedish Academy's nod, bound into literature with her new book as if it were the first time, with the spry energy of a doe....[B]eguiling and beautiful...deftly condensed...sinewy with imaginative sentences, lyric flight and abundant human sensitivity." (read the entire Philadelphia Inquirer review)
"Review A Day" by , "The overlaps between the language of love and the language of ownership are undeniable, from the declaration of mutual ownership "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine" from the biblical Song of Solomon (which is also the title of Morrison's best novel) to the conception of sex as "taking" or "possession." But while such tropes can appear to be innocent and even romantic, what Morrison is out to demonstrate is that slavery of any kind, even the enslavement in passion, is dangerous to the soul." (read the entire New Republic review)
"Review" by , "[R]iveting, even poetic....A fitting companion to her highly regarded Beloved."
"Review" by , "Gorgeous language and powerful understanding of the darkest regions in the human heart....[T]his allusive, elusive little gem adds its own shadowy luster to the Nobel laureate's shimmering body of work."
"Synopsis" by , A new novel, set, like Beloved, in the American past. Nobel Prize-winning author Morrison's latest masterpiece centers on a powerful tragedy involving a mother and daughter, and reveals how acts of mercy have unforeseen consequences.
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