Toni Morrison’s A Mercy is, according to several interviews I’ve heard and read, an attempt to “de-race” slavery. It’s 1690 somewhere in the western wilderness of the new world – that would be today’s Maryland and Virginia. America is unmapped, wild, still being formed, at the time that ideas about civilization, caste and race were being charted. The book is full of raw, uncivilized images and motivations.
Morrison’s community of women are the central characters. They are each orphans of a sort who come together as a family for a while, despite their differences –- and they outsurvive all the men, even if they don’t seem to exactly prevail. The women live, though their community in the end seems broken beyond repair. The men and all the boy babies die.
I think more overtly than ever, Morrison rewrites parts of Faulkner, and there is some genius interaction between the plot and characters of Absolom! and the narrative style of The Sound and the Fury. If anyone wants to do a book group, we can work all this out. Here are some pieces: Outsider pioneer decides to build grand house as edifice to his pride. Disease intercedes, killing man and his martyr woman nurse. Heirs don’t survive, and only the women are left to carry the story. The almost-finished home is haunted by a black slave (daughter of sorts), who tells her own story.
But this farmer Jacob Vaark is really very decent compared to the despicable Henry Sutpen. I seem to remember that Sutpen has his own humiliating childhood discovery of his caste. Which sheds an interesting light on Morrison’s project of taking us back to the color-blind roots of human bondage in this country.
On to Sound and the Fury: the book is narrated in turns by each of the characters, with every other section going to Florens, the black slave girl. One of them may as well be “told by an idiot:” Sorrow, the girl who somehow just ain’t quite right. ( No Easter cycle, though . . .)
It’s a quick little read. A normal person could gobble it up on one night; it took me four or five, of course. Sounds like I need to refresh myself on some Faulkner and then read A Mercy again. I am really up for that Faulkner reading group I keep threatening after a few bottles of wine . . .