This essay examines women’s literary mourning as expressed in the trope of lashing in Toni Morrison’s 2008 novel A Mercy. Structural ties, bonds, and lashes grant affective bonds in A Mercy a dangerous and sometimes lethal edge. This essay examines the fraught bonding and binding—or, to use the language of A Mercy, the lashing—that deforms the relationship between mothers and daughters and produces an archive of intergenerational mourning that struggles to be transmitted and deciphered. This essay seeks to understand how language and affective bonds influence the narrative management of women’s bodies and the form of the novel itself. The invitation to mourn extends beyond the book’s characters and to the reader. A Mercy disturbs the potentially stabilizing authority of the written word, expanding the practice of literary mourning from the world of the book to the world of the book’s reader. Lashed to a language that promises our undoing, the reader—like the women in the novel—confronts the originary violences of patriarchy, settler colonialism, and slavery that define the newness of the “New World.”

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