"A horrifying act stood at the center of Toni Morrison's 1987 masterwork, "Beloved: " a runaway slave, caught in her effort to escape, cuts the throat of her baby daughter with a handsaw, determined to spare the girl the fate she herself has suffered as a slave. A similarly indelible act stands at the center of Ms. Morrison's remarkable new novella, "A Mercy, " a small, plangent gem of a story that is, at once, a kind of prelude to "Beloved" and a variation on that earlier book's exploration of the personal costs of slavery-a system that moves men and women and children around 'like checkers' and casts a looming shadow over both parental and romantic love.
Set some 200 years before "Beloved, ""A Mercy" conjures up the beautiful, untamed, lawless world that was America in the 17th century with the same sort of lyrical, verdant prose that distinguished that earlier novel. . . . Ms. Morrison has rediscovered an urgent, poetic voice that enables her to move back and forth with immediacy and ease between the worlds of history and myth, between ordinary daily life and the realm of fable. . . . A heartbreaking account of lost innocence and fractured dreams, [that] also stands, with "Beloved, " as one of Ms. Morrison's most haunting works yet."
-Michiko Kakutani, "The New York Times"
"Spellbinding . . . Dazzling . . . ["A Mercy"] stands alongside "Beloved" as a unique triumph in Morrison's body of work. The lush poetry and amorphous structure of [the novel] reflect the story's distant setting in the mist of America's creation, when independence and the three-fifths compromise of the Constitution were still a century away. . . . Morrison, who has written so powerfully of catastrophe, cruelty and horror, here adds to that song of tragedy equally thrilling chords of desire and wonder, which in their own way are no less tragic. Where "Beloved" ends with the cathartic exhaustion of an exorcism, "A Mercy" concludes with an ambiguous kind of prayer, redolent withkshow more