My love for Toni Morrison is borderline obsessive, you can read all about it here, so when I heard the news of her 11th book being published I was all but salivating. Somehow I managed to contain my excitement because it is only recently that I got a chance to read God Help the Child, and the experience was…different.
“Spare and unsparing, God Help the Child–the first novel by Toni Morrison to be set in our current moment–weaves a table about the way suffering of childhood can shape, and misshape the life of the adult”
Is the succinct and ambitious description of Morrison’s novella. I was honestly surprised and disappointed at the brevity of pages, but that’s no reason to fault Morrison’s latest novel, especially when there are other valid ones.
Lula Ann Bridewell, or Bride, is the regional manager for a cosmetic brand as well as the creator of her own cosmetic line, You Go Girl. She is beautiful, with skin black like midnight and eyes feline fierce, she is never without an admirer. Her confidence is worn as extravagantly as the white garments she drapes herself in creating an alluring forcefield of intrigue and exoticism.
“Black sells. It’s the hottest commodity in the civilized world.” – Morrison (God Help the Child)
But that is all stripped away when her lover, Booker, a man with whom she “invented sex,” walks out on her.
In his wake is left a “scared, little, black girl” who is unable to confront the force that made her so–Sweetness, her mother, a light-skinned woman with “good hair,” who treated her “blue-black” child more like an intruder than a daughter. The pain of initial abandonment Bride warded off long ago, or so she thought, creeps back in a way that leaves her desperate for some sort of rectification. With this in heart and mind she attempts to track down her ex-lover.
Now, a part of me–like a large, substantial part–feels absolutely unqualified to critique Queen Morrison. In the world of literature she is nobility and you don’t go against royalty unless you’re willing to face execution. Ok perhaps I’m being a bit dramatic. However, despite Morrison’s celestial mastering of storytelling, I was disappointed with her latest offering.
Morrison had all of the elements that make her novels incredible: magic realism, un-conventional women, critiques on white-supremacy–Booker and Bride are like Jadine and Son in Tar Baby with their polar opposite views on life, money, and race–but something felt incredibly shallow this go-round. From the descriptions of nature, which is always a prominent character in a Morrison novel, to the hallow friendship Bride holds with the only person she can trust “Completely,” Brooklyn, I couldn’t insert myself in anything or anyone, which was frustrating.
Bride’s attempt to confront her ex-lover and understand her perpetual abandonment reveals a much deeper theme of childhood innocence being severed at the hands of adults. We are introduced to children who have suffered horrendous trauma reminiscent of The Bluest Eye, but lack the same ethos of Morrison’s first novel.
God Help the Child felt rushed. Characters enter and exit abruptly, point of views are tangled, and the string holding back Bride’s past–causing the strife between she and Booker–is snapped so prematurely that what’s revealed seems cheap. I finished the last page wanting so much more.
Perhaps it is unfair to judge this novel in comparison to Morrison’s previous catalog, but when you’ve won the Nobel Prize for literature and are known to write the most soul-stirring prose, can you blame a reader for high expectations.