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Monday, February 1, 2010

A MERCY: Toni Morrison's Treat to Literary Peeps

No other author does it for me quite like Toni Morrison. When I sit to imbibe one of her thirst-quenching masterpieces, I vanish within a world that is so exquisitely honed, so well detailed that I am left to the power of her almighty pen to walk through haunted houses, weep alongside friends who have known love and loss, stand up through the heaviness of longing for blue eyes and shake the acidic bite of a nickname like Milkman Dead.

I loved Paradise to a tender distraction: the cast of women in the book stealing my heart and from my schedule exacting hours of blazing bliss. Tar Baby yet sings its haunting refrains after our separation, one from the other, and I promise myself tonight: I shall find it and fall in love anew. Perhaps this is my Toni Morrison Year. Jazz sits on my shelf, either in my office or in a basket under my boudoir windows or on my overage shelves in my garage (I just hope I haven't loaned it to someone who has yet to return I must confess, I've yet to read it. So, too, Love, which is opened before me now, like a lover in lace and maroon cotton, demurely present, patiently awaiting my touch, my kiss. And I shall comply with both, eventually.

Right now I've chosen to answer the call of Morrison's latest novel, which is two years old now. Received it as a precious birthday gift from my beloved sisterfriend, Anita Lynn Contreras. We have been reading buddies since we saucily strolled Tuskegee Institute's campus centuries ago. Why, you might ask, have I just come to this novel? After all this time? Who knows? Time spent engrossed in other things? Writing? Exercising? Living? Loving? Dreaming? Breaking up? Could be any number of things. The reality is, though, we get to what we get to in Divine time.

I shall relish A MERCY for Black History Month. Will devour and digest it before Sunday, February 28, 2010, so that my beloved friends and I can pay homage to it and Toni Morrison on Facebook. If you'd care to join us, please befriend me at

Already, the opening woos me. "Don't be afraid. My telling can't hurt you in spite of what I have done and I promise to lie quietly in the dark--weeping perhaps or occasionally seeing the blood once more---but I will never again unfold my limbs to rise up and bare teeth."

With that, I am plunged into the 1680s, the Americas experiencing the beginning of the slave trade, the land rife with hatred, religious pangs, class conflicts, and instantly, excitedly, my mind conjures a quarry of questions. Who is speaking? Who or what is responsible of the person's fear in the telling? What has this unknown narrator done? What stranger things happen all the time everywhere? A confession? Has someone been killed? Can someone read? A slave? Hmmmm. And the curtains are lifted on the magic and majesty of Toni Morrison, writing with a definite assurance of a Nobel Prize writer, who brings us into the heartland of America and the people who land, are brought and are born there. In 167 pages, Toni Morrison will carry me on a journey, I'm certain, I shall long remember.

A master stylist, Morrison will teach me, mold me, beguile me, serenade me with the skills of her talent. And I will be, all over again, her willing student.

Lord, I love the way Morrison does what she does: the artistry, the poetic prowess in prose, the scanty dialogue, the workings of the characters' mind and the mind of the times that carry the story. Our first narrator confirms, "Let me start with what I know for certain." Mind you, before that is a discussion of signs and the countless meanings of those signs. But she comes for me, takes me by the hand and, beside Morrison, in sync, I am with her when she writes: "The beginning begins with the shoes." Afterwards, our narrator comes into a clearer focus. She is a girl, with "prettify ways" and the "hands of a slave and the feet of a Portuguese lady" and has "a minha mae" mama.

And that does it for me...I'm good to ride! Take me away, My Mind-blowing Scribe.

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