A Mercy
by Toni Morrison
(Knopf, $23.95)

Toni Morrison has ­rediscovered the “urgent, poetic voice” that earned her literature’s highest prizes, said Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times. In this “small, plangent gem” of a novel, the 1993 Nobel laureate conjures “the untamed, lawless world that was America in the 17th century” and zeroes in on one highly provisional household created by a decent-hearted Dutch farmer. The early pages are confusing, said John Updike in The New Yorker. The book’s principal narrator is a 16-year-old black slave looking back on the bonds she formed while working alongside the farmer’s mail-order wife and two other servant girls. The plot that eventually emerges is then sapped of energy by Morrison’s obvious determination to show that the New World was “poisoned from the start” by slavery. A Mercy delivers “no easy judgments,” though, said Ron Charles in The Washington Post. In fact, its “strange, affecting story” about the slipperiness of human relationships generates “an astonishing range of emotions.” Let others complain: At 167 pages, Morrison’s “little masterpiece” is a book “you must not miss.”