Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Show no mercy

B.R. Myers reviews Toni Morrison's A Mercy in The Atlantic:
Some people complain that 19th-century fiction takes too long to get going. But does it really? Once the hero’s pedigree is out of the way, the Victorian novel moves resolutely forward. The contemporary narrative, on the other hand, offers a quick thrill up front that readers must pay off, in a kind of installment plan, by enduring one flashback after another.

[...]

A short novel at only 167 pages (the title is apt), A Mercy might still have held the reader’s attention had it ignored the contemporary taboo against straightforward, sequential storytelling. But this is in effect a series of back­stories, some told in the narrator’s affected voice, some in the characters’ scatty idiom, but all moving at the same uninvolving expository trot.
It's a particularly skillful reviewer who can let you know exactly what you'd be in for were you unfortunate enough to encounter a given book.

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