This is one of those match-ups that make the whole battle-of-the-book thing look extra dumb. These are both superb mature works by masters, which are nearly impossible to square up against one another. A Mercy
is a splinter of a book and yet like any splinter, is brutally placed, almost impossible to ignore. A slave woman offers up her daughter to repay a debt and from here it’s all madness, nightmare, family, and of course America. This has been called a prequel to Beloved
but for me it’s more of a return to form. I’m one of Morrison’s greatest fans and yet I have been unable to read with any pleasure her last three novels. Sorry folks: I’m just not that into them. In fact, I’d argue they suck. This book doesn’t suck. It does justice to its author’s talent on every level; it’s a perfect example of why I got into this reading game. In its pages you are thrown into a New World, our former world, of slavery, of vicious brutality, of grasping contradictory hope.
is perhaps Peter Matthiessen’s magnum opus: In it he charts more or less how a single murder can echo down through the generations and how one crazy-ass man, Edgar Watson, can stand in for a place, a generation, a country. I read the earlier version of these novels before so it felt a little bit like a cheat reading them again, beautifully ordered and gussied up. I know that the National Book Award people felt that this was an entirely new project. I didn’t, not entirely. It’s superb but it didn’t read new to me and that’s what did it in, in my book. I should have better criteria but that’s the way these things are: You can pretend it’s math or science but it’s almost always gut and predilection. I give this round to Morrison. Beyond its newness, in the end it was her text that I returned to most once the reading was done.
A Mercy by Toni Morrison