Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times:
A horrifying act stood at the center of Toni Morrison’s 1987 masterwork, “Beloved”: a runaway slave, caught in her effort to escape, cuts the throat of her baby daughter with a handsaw, determined to spare the girl the fate she herself has suffered as a slave. A similarly indelible act stands at the center of Ms. Morrison’s remarkable new novella, “A Mercy,” a small, plangent gem of a story that is, at once, a kind of prelude to “Beloved” and a variation on that earlier book’s exploration of the personal costs of slavery — a system that moves men and women and children around “like checkers” and casts a looming shadow over both parental and romantic love.
Set some 200 years before “Beloved,” “A Mercy” conjures up the beautiful, untamed, lawless world that was America in the 17th century with the same sort of lyrical, verdant prose that distinguished that earlier novel. Gone are the didactic language and schematic architecture that hobbled the author’s 1998 novel, “Paradise”; gone are the cartoonish characters that marred her 2003 novel, “Love.” Instead Ms. Morrison has rediscovered an urgent, poetic voice that enables her to move back and forth with immediacy and ease between the worlds of history and myth, between ordinary daily life and the realm of fable.
All the central characters in this story are orphans, cast off by their parents or swept away from their families by acts of God or nature or human cruelty — literal or figurative exiles susceptible to the centrifugal forces of history.