Award-winning writer Toni Morrison publishes a new novel about the physical and psychologically life-altering consequences a painful secret bears on a successful young woman in search of love. Will this be Morrison’s last attempt to satisfy her fan-base’s cravings for more of her? Read my three-installment-review of God Help the Child.
If you’re Toni Morrison, and you’ve won a Pulitzer Prize in fiction, you really don’t have to produce another brilliant body of work. However, if you’re Toni Morrison, and you’ve won a Pulitzer Prize in fiction, you produce one brilliant work after another because that’s the only thing you know how to do. Your readers expect nothing less.
I’m one of those obsessed Morrison fans whose library is stocked with practically every novel she’s written. I’m the one who tells strangers and friends that Morrison is the best gift that novel writing could produce, and who hasn’t cried their eyes out each and every time after reading The Bluest Eye? Succumbing to a Morrison novel is akin to surrendering to a Stevie Wonder song; the implied rule is that you NEVER leave a Morrison novel unfinished just as you NEVER turn off a Stevie Wonder song to switch to another radio station.
As a creative writer, I realize that’s a pretty unfair standard in which to hold a writer. The truth is that some books will flop, and some songs will not be well executed. If I had to be absolutely honest, I admit I only love 5 of the 9 novels I’ve read from Morrison (she’s written about 11 including a children’s book and a couple she co-authored.) But that’s not the story I tell strangers and friends. (The second implied rule all fans should follow is the need to sensationalize all work regardless if you actually enjoyed it.)
This is the lie I tell myself, which easily travels the path toward elitism. Who actually buys into the all-or-nothing thinking of supporting an artist, a sports team, a chef, a professor, a friend, even? People are flawed, our tastes are subjective, our standards unrealistic. It’s fine to be disappointed that a Pulitzer Prize author may have lost her steam after churning out several successful books. Despite her last effort, Morrison’s critics will still esteem her as one of the best historical fiction writers in the American canon, a title she rightly deserves.
Nonetheless, I can’t reconcile my excitement over the idea of reading God Help the Child, her 2015 novel, set in the 21st century, and my frustration as I struggled to see the beauty in her words. I model my prose on Morrison’s, and now what I’ve read seems sophomoric and half-hazard in comparison.
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