Two decades after her first novel "The Bluest Eye," had been published in 1970, Toni Morrison disclosed in an Afterword that she was dissatisfied with the book's language and its structure, and that it 'required a sophistication unavailable to me', she had confessed. Be that as it may, whether that was the case or not, I believe her first novel stands on its own merits, although, the sophistication she referred to, if you will, can be found in her newest work, "A Mercy."
Without question, in my view, it is very much a contemporary classic work which resonates, not only with sophistication, but wisdom as well, after all it has been 39 years since the writing of her first novel and Morrison's insights into human nature, especially within the context of race relations, is quite profound.
Morrison has certainly put to good use her fertile mind, her imaginative ideas, and her passion to tell a story, a history of slavery that to her has always been too close for comfort but always within reach--emotionally within her grasp. Certainly her rich family ancestry has passed on to Morrison, many of the stories she so vividly talks about in all her books.
The many heartfelt tales her wonderful characters portray and live out throughout her novels, in one form or another, are as breathtaking as they are heart-breaking, and more so, is the story told by Florens in this story. An unknown character, who we soon learn, named Florens, opens this tale with a confession. A bloody deed. She tells of how she plans and plots her way to YOU, as she refers to the reader's conscience, as I understand it. Almost as if she wants us to be co-conspirators, or witnesses to her crime.
At first, this is a confusing, albeit a necessary ploy on Morrison's part. Confusing because the narrative, its syntax that is, is somewhat unusual, because of the narrator's awkward phrasing, and necessary because Morrison knows how to involve her readers -her audience in a partnership. She's a master at getting her readers to participate and become an active part or a willing character in her stories and I believe she succeeds brilliantly in this case.
But it is after that short, poetic, first chapter. The chapter you must read twice, in order to get it, that the story opens up as Jacob Vaark, the "white-man's conscience" in the story makes his entrance and stirs things up a bit. But of course, the very astute Morrison gives Vaark a formidable handicap: He is just as human as any other white man and therefore just as greedy, despite his admonition: "His distaste for dealing in flesh."
Morrison goes on and makes wise use of her invisible, sinister, narrator that opens the story, by using this narrator to begin many other chapters, slowly and methodically cluing us in on her devious plot. The task, the errand at hand she has been sent to carry out in the name of justice. In the name of her mother, a minha mae. (Meaning, "my mother" in Portuguese.) It is all very intriguing and as always, Morrison's plots are very active and take many turns and multiple points of view, which adds a wonderful texture to her writing.
If I had one tiny criticism, which I've justified in my own mind, it is that the ending sounds a bit preachy and authorial. Maybe even hard-hitting to those who receive the character's (and consequently, the author's) brave message. A message that Morrison has penned in subtler ways since her first novel. A message of her pain and the long-suffering among Blacks in a predominantly White world. The injustice wrought on her and her people throughout many generations. A strong admonition that nonetheless needs to be heard, and heeded. I just don't agree that it should be delivered so transparently in a work of fiction. (Could Toni Morrison be testing the waters for her take on an upcoming non-fiction account of slavery? We'll see.)
The characters in this novel are also delineated superficially, which is most likely intentional, as the plot and it's main theme, namely, injustice, are at the center of this powerful and beautifully written story. If you're a newcomer to Morrison's writing, any of her great novels is a good place to start enjoying everything she has to offer.
Start with her first, as mentioned, "The Bluest Eye," and work your way up, one by one, up to "A Mercy." So far her last story, but hopefully, not her last book. Reading this novel was like discovering an old 17th century relic that contained an important message with valuable seeds inside of it. Seeds that when sown inside your heart, grow magically and eternally into something profound. Something beautiful.
Thank you for the courageous words, Toni Morrison, they are well-received.