Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Mercy by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison is in her seventies, which might explain the shortness of her novels lately. And this novel actually reads much more like a short story (admittedly a 165 page short story, but that's still how it feels to me) in that it works a great deal with implication, hinting at deeper things all around these characters, but not really giving up the details. Anyway, it's Morrison, so it's good enough for me.

Recently one of my undergraduates, a visual arts major, had some wonderful paintings in FAU's senior show (Hi, Jennifer) and in the art catalogue, she explained her process as painting a smaller stroke inside of a larger stroke. Which sounded cool, but also suggested a way of analyzing Morrison's technique in this novel. While in a painting viewers see the two strokes at once, here in a section of text Morrison will give the big stroke--a scene where you can see what's happening but you don't know why or to who or exactly what's going on--and then in a later section (often with a different narrative point of view), you'll get the big stroke filled in with a smaller stroke. For example, a character referred to as "you" will be revealed to be a blacksmith one narrator has fallen in love/obsession with. So the strokes are sequential, but one still fills in the other. It has the effect of first jarring the reader out of complacency, but then reassuring them that there is a truth and it will be told. I guess it's sort of how life works--you make sense--or a story--out of most things only later? I don't know if this is true, but it sounds pretty good.

3 comments:

Annie King said...

Hi, I just wanted to let you know I read your posts regularly, and I enjoy them. I love how you analyze writing technique and point-of-view, giving me ideas or a perspective for my own writing. I often read the books you recommend (or wish I had time to read them).

Mark Scroggins said...

Nothing to do with Toni M., Papatya, but I gotta protest the new template. I've always thought that this is Blogger's most butt-ugly layout, even tho my pal Eric S. has stuck with it for years. Go back to the old look!

Ayse Papatya Bucak said...

Annie--thank you.

Mark--I prefer not to.