When, exactly, were "The Good Old Days?" Surely not the 1680s, when eastern and southern First Nations were losing a war of attrition against European marauders and refugees, when the dreams of some were predicated on the nightmares of others, when the clay of North American civilization was still muddy and misshapen.
In her latest novel, A Mercy, Toni Morrison twists back to that obscure colonial era to strip away more of our family secrets. Morrison shows how precarious life has always been here; how easily the linchpin can dissolve and the balance trip.
In A Mercy, the linchpin is a man names Jacob Vaark, an Anglo-Dutch trader whose sober, sensible style invites a certain type of prosperity in the chaotic late 1600s. But A Mercy is not about Vaark. Instead it tells the story of the women who live together under his suzerainty on his New York farm: Vaark's wife Rebekka, a refugee from England; Lina, an older servant/slave whose tribe had been swept aside by smallpox; Florens, an African girl grudgingly accepted by Vaark as a Maryland tobacco farmer's payment for debt; and Sorrow, the sole survivor of a shipwreck