By Toni Morrison; Signet, Penguin Books USA @1987; 338 pages.
I had heard of Toni Morrison, but had never read her books. I won’t rehash the story here because I don’t want to spoil it for you, not even the first chapter.
Beloved won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Briefly, the story is about Sethe, a woman who escaped from slavery and who continues to be haunted by her past.
Toni Morrison is amazing. She is the most skilled writer I have read in a very long time. I am in awe. The story she tells, the details, her execution, her command of language, suspense, knowledge and understanding of human nature, scene, dialogue, imagination! And while I’m not drawn to sad stories, this one is a must read. This one, that I’m reading so soon after having read Doris Lessing’s Prisons That We Choose to Live Inside, strikes me as another example of the horrific behavior of our species.
Slavery is a topic so painful that we still can’t talk about it. There is so much I didn’t know. So much I need to find out. How terribly awful our past is. But Morrison has created art here. She has brought beauty, humanity, and strength to a situation so horrible, so shameful, so intense that it is just unimaginable to me that it really happened. Of course, this story is fiction, but the details here revive the real-life actions of the past. We know that people, other than the characters of this story, real people, lived through a lot more. Morrison tells a story that must be told, must be read, and must be acknowledged.
Here is an example of Toni Morrison’s writing:
Anybody Baby Suggs knew, let along loved, who hadn’t run off or been hanged, got rented out, loaned out, bought up, brought back, stored up, mortgaged, won, stolen or seized. So Baby’s eight children had six fathers. What she called the nastiness of life was the shock she received upon learning that nobody stopped playing checkers just because the pieces included her children. Halle she was able to keep the longest. Twenty years. A lifetime. Given to her, no doubt, to make up for hearing that her two girls, neither of whom had their adult teeth, were sold and gone and she had not been able to wave goodbye. To make up for coupling with a straw boss for four months in exchange for keeping her third child, a boy, with her—only to have him traded for lumber in the spring of the next year and to find herself pregnant by the man who promised not to and did. That child she could not love and the rest she would not.
I find Baby Suggs’ strategy for getting though the final chapter of her life compelling. She decided that she wanted to think about something that didn’t have any pain involved, no hurt, no evil. She went to bed and contemplated color. She started with blue, then went on to yellow and then pink.
Was Morrison meaning to be ironic? Because it seems that color does have a lot of pain associated with it.
On the front of my copy, there is a quote from Newsweek:
“A masterpiece … magnificent … astounding … overpowering!”
Yes—All of the above.
——–The BBC World Book Club interviewed Toni Morrison. You can listen to that interview here: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/worldservice/wbc/wbc_20120407-2006a.mp3