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.
God Help the Child is set sometime in contemporary culture, and perhaps this is Morrison’s first mistake. Morrison stretches beyond her comfort zone of writing historical fiction to compose present-day prose, but the language is awkward and unconvincing.
Take for instance, the conversations she has with Brooklyn, her friend and coworker whose sarcastic quips are ill-fitted. After revealing that she was beaten in revenge by the woman she put behind bars 15 years ago, Brooklyn offers to fix her troubles “not with no bingo,” but “blingo.”
Each time Morrison takes an inch forward to place her characters in our decade — a place and time where Wal-Marts, Diet Cokes, PlayStations, and Elle magazines exist — she skips backwards five steps into a period when the word Negro is common vernacular; technology is actually a myth; white children beat and bully black girls with words like “Sambo,” “coon,” “Ooga booga”; landlords, who use the words “nigger cunt,” are still paid rent in cash; and a racist drugstore owner kindly awards Lula Ann with a “Clark bar” after she testifies against an alleged child molester.
Morrison’s diction is infatuated with the 20’s – 70’s, and so are the names of her characters Sweetness, Lula Ann Bridewell, Booker, and Queen. This simply does not work for a current literary piece, one that makes flashbacks to the 80’s but makes no significant cultural references on which the reader can depend. (Why are there musical references to “Louis, Ellis, Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll, King Oliver and Bunk Johnson,” but no nods to Marsalis, Chick Corea, Joe Sample or Anita Baker?)
And then there is the scene that Morrison spends a great time unraveling, when a family rescues Bride from a debilitating car wreck and carries her to their home void of modern conveniences such as running water, centralized heat, or a microwave. Rain is the child who discovers Bride’s entrapment and initially considers her an anomaly, asking “Why is her skin so black?” They enter an unlikely friendship united by stories of past trauma. When Bride recovers and leaves her Hippie family, Rain grieves her “black lady” much like a character from The Help.
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