January 6th, 2009 5:33 pm | by JOHN MINERVINI News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

TOME RAIDER: A Mercy, Part I of II


Each week, WW writer John Minervini brings you the latest in book reviews, author Q&A's and Portland literary gossip. Check wweek.com in coming days for the second half of Tome Raider's two-part review of Toni Morrison's new novel, A Mercy (Knopf, 167 pages, $23.95).

Six-Word Plot Summary: A Mercy is Only Skin-Deep

Let me guess: you found Toni Morrison's new book, under the Christmas tree; you've cracked it open up a few times; and now you're wondering…what's wrong with me? Why am I not enjoying this?

Dutiful reader: you are not alone. Just about everybody who has picked up Toni Morrison's new book has experienced some form of anxiety about not enjoying it. Am I uncultured, a philistine, a boor? they ask themselves. Or in their darker moments: Am I racist?

And while the Tome Raider can't provide an answer to either of those questions, he can teach you some innovative new techniques to help you enjoy A Mercy (Knopf, 167 pages, $23.95). The fact is that up until now, you've been going about it the wrong way. So here's what you do.


First, let's take a moment to admire the outside of the book. Isn't it an awfully nice book? That misty, romanticized New England landscape, the beautiful engraved lettering…yes, this is clearly a real book of a book, a massive and concrete achievement in American letters. And just wait ‘till you turn it over:


Whoah! If there were any lingering doubt that this is a prestige title, let it be put to rest. This woman on the back cover…she's not just any woman. She's looking way off into the distance. She sees things that you and I don't see, even if, in this case, it's just the far wall of Timothy Greenfield-Sanders' photography studio. She's...huge. No indeed, there can be no doubt regarding the immaculate taste of the person who gave you this book (which, through the transitive property of Christmas gift-giving, has now become your taste, lucky reader).

Now that we've acquainted ourselves with the book, let's take a moment to revel in its literary cache. After all, it's not every day that one is so fortunate as to be given a novel authored by a Nobel Laureate, a recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award and a Pulitzer Prize-winner. First, we'll begin with some light stretches, and then we'll pat ourselves on the back, because we are so breathlessly current, so eminently multicultural, and especially because we aren't afraid to read a difficult book.

There, aren't you feeling better about the whole thing? Let's email a few of your friends. Leave the subject line innocuous, something like “hey” or “happy new year.” Here's a prototype:

FROM: miche1foucau1t@gmail.com
TO: susanstineberg@gmail.com
DATE SENT: Tuesday, Jan. 6 at 11:44 AM PST

Hey Susan,

Happy holidays! I know I haven't called in a while; I just wanted to check in, see how ur doing, if your leg healed after the accident, how the divorce is going, whether you got custody of the kids, etc. etc.
Oh hey, by the way, I got this great book for Christmas, it's called A Mercy by Toni Morrison, it's totally cool you should check it out if you have time. Since I started reading it, I've learned a lot about slavery and US history and multiculturalism, although I must admit, it is rather a difficult book.
Anyway, hope ur doing good and are back home from the hospital, let's hang out soon.


For those who are willing to go the extra mile, reading A Mercy could even yield you a life partner, through the magic of a Craigslist missed connection. Interested? Here's how to pull it off.

Take that crisp new copy of yours on the bus or the streetcar, open it up to page one, and read it ostentatiously, holding it perpendicular to the floor, like a little billboard for your sophistication. Keep it up for a few days, meanwhile religiously checking Craigslist. If you're lucky, you'll turn up something like this:


Subj: Reading Tony Morrisson - m4m - 43 (Bus to Tanasbourne)
Reply to: pers-912809199@craigslist.org
Date: 2009-01-06, 3:42AM PST

Hey, saw U readin on the 89 bus, U got off @ Starbuxx, I followed U4 a while after that. I think U wr readin that new book by Tony Morrisson? A Murphy or something? That's soooo cool he is rilly multicultural, he won an emmy or seomthing right? N-E-way I think I felt a real connxion with U, and on the random chance U read this AND UR NOT A DRUG ADDICT OR A REGISTRD SEX OFFENDR I wd luv to get some coffee or something. PS I ws the one in the parashoot pants, I kind of look like garey busey. Hit me up.

Dear reader, just look how far you've come. You've developed a taste for sophisticated, multicultural novels; you've let your friends know about your newfound literary sensibilities—you've even found a parashoot pants-wearing life partner—and all without reading a single page of Toni Morrison's new book.

The good news is that you'll never have to worry about your friend (the one who gave you the book) asking you any obnoxious questions about its plot or themes. That's because you can be 99% sure that they haven't read it either.

Check wweek.com in coming days for the second half of Tome Raider's two-part review of Toni Morrison's new novel, A Mercy (Knopf, 167 pages, $23.95). Click here to join the Tome Raider mailing list.
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