God Help the Child

By Toni Morrison

(Knopf  Doubleday,   $24.95, 192 pages)

Who is this author?

Toni Morrison, the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature (1993), as well as a National Book Critics Circle Award, a Pulitzer Prize and a Presidential Medal of Freedom, is a professor of English at Princeton University and one of America’s finest novelists. Her 11 novels include The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, Paradise, Home, Love and Beloved, whose film version starred Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover and which The New York Times named in 2006 as the best American novel published in the previous 25 years.

What is this book about?

The suffering of little children and how it continually shapes the lives of adults is the core of Toni Morrison’s latest, told, as her novels often are, in a powerful mixture of straightforward storytelling and lyrical fable. A woman who calls herself Bride, born Lula Ann with skin so dark as to look blue-back to parents repulsed by her color, undergoes a metamorphosis into a stunning woman who is just about to launch her own cosmetics empire. But first, she feels she must try to right a wrong she committed as a child: to gain favor with her rejecting mother, little Lula Ann gave false testimony about her teacher, Sofia, accusing her of sexual abuse. Now 15 years later, Bride tries to pay Sofia back, with disastrous results that involve severe injuries and the relinquishing of control over her beauty empire. Worse, Bride’s incomparably satisfying lover, Booker, leaves her, partly because he is haunted by actual pedophile attacks on his murdered little brother that he wishes to avenge. When Bride, who seems to be having a breakdown, tries to find him, she becomes entangled with yet another abused child, Rain.

Why you’ll like it:

The plot of God Help the Child  is grim stuff, but Morrison tells Bride and Booker’s story with such literary grace and beauty that the book rises above its dark underpinning. Morrison fluidly mixes elements of racial hate, child abuse, false imprisonment, parental rejection and other emotional and spiritual ills and somehow turns it all into a haunting novel about the possibilities of redemption. Very few writers can set themselves such a task and succeed: the sure-handed Morrison takes on and then overcomes her own challenge.

What others are saying:

Publishers Weekly’s starred review says: “In Morrison’s short, emotionally-wrenching novel, her first since 2012′s Home, a mother learns about the damage adults do to children and the choices children make as they grow to suppress, express, or overcome their shame. The story begins with the birth of Lula Ann Bridewell, a midnight black baby whose mother cannot stand to touch her. Grown-up Lula Ann transforms herself into Bride, a stiletto-wearing, Jaguar-driving California executive with dark skin proudly accentuated by stylish white clothing. Amid preparations for the launch of her signature cosmetics line, Bride offers a gift-bag of cash and cosmetics to parolee Sofia Huxley, the kindergarten teacher Bride accused of sexual abuse 15 years before, earning Bride maternal approval and Sofia her prison sentence. Sofia’s angry rejection of Bride’s present, coinciding with the departure of Bride’s lover, inspires such self-doubt that Bride fears regressing back into Lula Ann. A car accident lands her in a culvert, where a little girl keeping dark secrets of her own comes to the rescue. Nobel laureate Morrison explores characteristic themes of people held captive by inner struggles; the delusion of racism; violence and redemption. Her literary craftsmanship endures with sparse language, precise imagery, and even humor. This haunting novel displays a profound understanding of American culture and an unwavering sense of justice and forgiveness.”

“Sly, savage, honest, and elegant . . . . Morrison spikes elements of realism and hyperrealism with magic and mayhem, while sustaining a sexily poetic and intoxicating narrative atmosphere . . . . Once again, Morrison thrillingly brings the storytelling moxie and mojo that make her, arguably, our greatest living novelist,” says ELLE Magazine.

Library Journal’s starred review says: “In her latest book, Nobel laureate Morrison shows us how we hold onto our pain and let it define us, pulling back on her often liquidly lyric style to offer powerful portraits in lean prose. Sweetness, who is from a family whose members can pass for white, gives birth to the midnight-black Lula Ann and raises her at an ashamed and bitter distance, which she rationalizes will toughen her up. As a child, Lula Ann gains some favor from her mother by helping to put away a teacher named Sofia, who is accused of sexually abusing her charges. As an adult who renames herself Bride, Lula Ann becomes a successful, traffic-stoppingly beautiful career woman. But her life starts falling apart when she meets with a just-paroled Sofia. Then Booker, with whom she’s been conducting a passionate affair, leaves without explanation. Serious-minded Booker cannot leave behind a terrible family tragedy, and as Bride pursues him for answers to his abandonment, they are both transformed in more ways than one. VERDICT There are some moves here that may seem obvious, but the pieces all fit together seamlessly in a story about beating back the past, confronting the present, and understanding one’s worth.”

In The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani writes: “…slim but powerful…This novel does not aspire to the grand sweep of history in Ms. Morrison’s dazzling 1987 masterpiece, Beloved, but like Home (2012), it attests to her ability to write intensely felt chamber pieces that inhabit a twilight world between fable and realism, and to convey the desperate yearnings of her characters for safety and love and belonging. The scars inflicted on Bride and Booker by their childhoods are metaphors of sorts for the calamities of history and the hold they can exert over a country’s or a people’s dreams…Writing with gathering speed and assurance as the book progresses, Ms. Morrison works her narrative magic, turning the Ballad of Bride and Booker into a tale that is as forceful as it is affecting, as fierce as it is resonant.”

In its starred review, Kirkus says: “Brutality, racism and lies are relieved by moments of connection in Morrison’s latest.A little girl is born with skin so black her mother will not touch her. Desperate for approval, to just once have her mother take her hand, she tells a lie that puts an innocent schoolteacher in jail for decades. Later, the ebony-skinned girl will change her name to Bride, wear only white, become a cosmetics entrepreneur, drive a Jaguar. Her lover, a man named Booker, also bears a deep scar on his soul—his older brother was abducted, tortured and murdered by a pedophilic serial killer. This is a skinny, fast-moving novel filled with tragic incidents, most sketched in a few haunting sentences: “The last time Booker saw Adam he was skateboarding down the sidewalk in twilight, his yellow T-shirt fluorescent under the Northern Ash trees.” When Bride’s falsely accused teacher is released from prison, there’s a new round of trouble. Booker leaves, Bride goes after him—and ends up in the woods, recovering from a car accident with hippie survivalists who have adopted a young girl abused by her prostitute mother. Meanwhile, Bride is anxiously watching her own body metamorphose into that of a child—her pubic hair has vanished, her chest has flattened, her earlobes are smooth. As in the darkest fairy tales, there will be fire and death. There will also be lobster salad, Smartwater and Louis Vuitton; the mythic aspects of this novel are balanced by moments like the one in which Bride decides that the song that most represents her relationship with Booker is “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.” A chilling oracle and a lively storyteller, Nobel winner Morrison continues the work she began 45 years ago with The Bluest Eye.”




When is it available?

Morrison’s latest is now at the Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Barbour, Blue Hills, Dwight, Goodwin and Park branches.

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