Wednesday, June 17, 2015

"God Help the Child," by Toni Morrison

I hesitate to even try to “review” a book by the justly revered Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison. I have read most of her novels, some more than once, and have taught her work as well. So here I will just jot down a few notes about her new novel “God Help the Child” (Knopf, 2015), rather than evaluating it. This is a powerful novel about race, color, parenting, and relationships, among other topics. One central focus is the prejudice, even among some African Americans, against those whose skin is very dark (which is why I listed race and color separately in the last sentence). The main character, Bride (who chose this name for herself as an adult, jettisoning her birth name of Lula Ann) is born very dark black. Her mother, Sweetness, and her father, Louis, are both light-skinned blacks, and can’t accept the child’s color. Louis is suspicious that Sweetness must have had an affair, and leaves the family; there is no further mention of him in the novel. Sweetness can never bring herself to love her child, treats her very strictly, and almost never touches her. Lula Ann, soon to be Bride, feels unloved, leaves home as soon as possible, and makes her own way in life, becoming a successful businesswoman and communicating with her mother only rarely, although she does send her money. But the emotional scars and insecurities persist. So the second focus of the novel is on the longterm effects of the way parents treat their children. There are other topics: sexual abuse, lies, the fragility of connections in Bride’s relationships, and more. The writing, as always with Morrison, is beautiful, original and moving. In Bride, Morrison has created a vivid and compelling character, although one with mysterious aspects and a certain unknowability. One matter of note is that this novel does not feature the supernatural, mythical, magical aspects that are so prominent in many of Morrison’s earlier novels; this is neither a good or bad thing, just different. Although this novel is short (178 smallish pages), there is a lot of “story” and emotion, and much to think about and react to, packed into those pages. I am glad I read it.

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