31 December 2015
God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
Spare and unsparing, God Help the Child—the first novel by Toni Morrison to be set in our current moment—weaves a tale about the way the sufferings of childhood can shape, and misshape, the life of the adult.
At the center: a young woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty, her boldness and confidence, her success in life, but which caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love. There is Booker, the man Bride loves, and loses to anger. Rain, the mysterious white child with whom she crosses paths. And finally, Bride’s mother herself, Sweetness, who takes a lifetime to come to understand that “what you do to children matters. And they might never forget.”
A fierce and provocative novel that adds a new dimension to the matchless oeuvre of Toni Morrison.
God bless and keep Toni Morrison. If I am half this articulate and creative at her age....wow.
Now, I had originally picked up at DRC of God Help the Child, and couldn't get into it. So I bought a hardcover when it came out - because why wouldn't I buy Queen Toni in hardcover - and still couldn't get into it. This is not a big book, so I couldn't figure out why this book wasn't catching on for me.
So then I found God Help the Child on Overdrive, and it's read by Toni Morrison. *muppet arms* Toni Morrison has such a wonderful reading voice, I wanted to marinate in her words (guys, the way she says words that start with "br"...convenient, since one of the main characters is named Bride). But also, I figured out why I was having trouble getting into this book in print.
The characters are all expert at emotional distance. Sweetness denies her child, Bride, love or human contact because she isn't a light-skinned child like her parents. Bride, desperate for this contact, does something terrible as a child and undergoes a terrible experience trying to right that wrong as an adult. Booker, sensing that Bride is holding something back, pushes her away. All this distance was pushing me away as a reader. One of the things I love about Beloved was the emotionally gripping nature of the characters, Beloved's anger, Sethe's anguish - it's right there from page one. I was there for those characters almost immediately, but I was having trouble caring for the characters in God Help the Child.
Toni Morrison reading the book was a way in for me. It took about half the book before I pegged what was going on and then began to care about why Bride was doing what she was doing. Then the book got really, really good. This is all beside the point that Toni Morrison can write a sentence. That goes without saying.
So if you're having a bit of trouble getting into God Help the Child, I recommend the audio book. A great listen.
Dear FTC: I received a DRC of the book from the publisher via Edelweiss, then bought a hardcover, then borrowed the audiobook from the library via Overdrive.