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But Bride did not always know her beauty or how to wear it. Bride grew up without love, tenderness, affection or apology. Sweetness makes it clear she saw herself as protecting her child from a world that would be even more inclined to punish Bride for the darkness of her skin. But how else can we hold on to a little dignity? If colourism is what allowed black folk to hold on to their dignity, Bride was never going to be allowed any. With a mother who disdains her very existence, it comes as no surprise when Bride tells a lie that sends an innocent woman to prison just so her mother might see her, claim her, love her — so she might have some dignity of her own.
Years later, as an adult, Bride has found a way to be somewhat comfortable in her own skin. She is a successful executive at a cosmetics company, making money, running with all the right crowds. And still, her past is with her. Bride tries to make amends for the terrible lie she told as a young girl but, in the process, her boyfriend Booker walks out on her and she learns that making amends does not always go according to plan. His life beyond their relationship was, until she goes in search of him, of little concern.
Her journey takes Bride to the woods of northern California, where she wrecks her car and must convalesce with a white family who have also taken in Rain, a young girl who has known her own brand of torment.
These physical changes are the most interesting and undeveloped part of God Help the Child. God Help the Child is the kind of novel where you can feel the magnificence just beyond your reach. The writing and storytelling are utterly compelling, but so much is frustratingly flawed.
As the novel stands, the only characters we know with any kind of depth or significance are Bride, Sweetness and, to a lesser extent, Booker.
There are several others of whom we learn little when the narrative clearly demands much more. There is a subplot involving a devious co-worker and friend, Brooklyn, that accomplishes very little. One of the characters who might seem the ripest for further development, Queen, graces precious few of the pages. Yet still, there is that magnificence, burning beneath the surface of every word. Morrison remains an incredibly powerful writer who commands attention no matter the story she is telling.
In God Help the Child we have a coming-of-age story for an adult woman in arrested development. Topics Toni Morrison. Fiction Race reviews. Reuse this content. Order by newest oldest recommendations. Show 25 25 50 All. Threads collapsed expanded unthreaded. Loading comments… Trouble loading? Most popular.
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As children we have gentle, wordless expectations that the big people in our lives will endeavor to keep us from harm, or, at the very least, not harm us. And they might never forget. At the heart of the novel is a woman who calls herself Bride. She was so black she scared me. Midnight black, Sudanese black. And so Bride grows up, pinched by hunger and shame, craving love and acceptance.
I used to pray she would slap my face or spank me just to feel her touch. I made little mistakes deliberately, but she had ways to punish me without touching the skin she hated — bed without supper, lock me in my room. But one mistake has devastating consequences. As an adult, Bride sets out to make restitution to this woman but bungles it.
She knows only how to turn heads and suppress emotions; she knows nothing as yet of kindness and compassion. While talking to him certain things I had buried came up fresh as though I was seeing them for the first time. Miles from home, in Northern California logging country, she suffers a car accident and is taken in by a white hippie family. In Rain, Bride finds a friend; they understand each other in the easy way of children. Her body becomes smaller and smaller, her period is strangely late.
In this shape-shifting form, she eventually finds Booker in another part of the woods, living in a trailer near his eccentric aunt Queen. Toni Morrison has always written for the ear, with a loving attention to the textures and sounds of words. And the natural landscapes in her books have a way of erupting into lively play, giving richness and depth to her themes. The clouds gathered together, stood still and watched the river scuttle around the forest floor, crash headlong into the haunches of hills with no notion of where it was going, until exhausted, ill and grieving, it slowed to a stop just 20 leagues short of the sea.
All that is missing is a pancake sun with ray sticks all around it. There are swirls of brutal personal histories, hurried vignettes and blatantly untrustworthy monologues. Instead, like Sweetness, they choose self-righteousness.
Or, like the hippie couple in the forest, they seem unable to face the crimes. Probably an otherwise nice man — they always were. Why not hurt a fly? Did it mean he was too tender to take the life of a disease-carrying insect but could happily ax the life of a child?
Nobody tells me what to do. Really wrong. She was so black. She scared me. Yeah, I wanted to focus in this book about the confusion there is about race. So I wandered her journey to be about becoming a three-dimensional human being. I even thought of giving her away to an orphanage someplace. And I was scared to be one of those mothers who put their babies on church steps.
Let the reader enter with his or her own imagination, and that makes us co-conspirators as it were, together, the reader and me. Book narration: Simply dumbstruck by her beauty. Booker stared open-mouthed at a young blue-black woman, standing at the curb laughing, her hair like a million black butterflies asleep on her head.
He put the trumpet to his lips. What emerged was music he had never played before: low muted notes. Held long, too long, as the strains floated through drops of rain.
I found myself reading between the lines, sucking the marrow out of every sentence. Curiously, the abundance of first-person confessionals does little to invite actual intimacy. They reminded me of reality TV — thin declarations of trauma followed by triumphant dismissals of enduring hurt. I was left with the bitter supposition that childhood is the perfect condition to be manipulated by adult power because it is self-perpetuating.
Children become adults and carry with them a trauma imprinted on the body and memory. All goodness. With cutting severity, Morrison touches on possibilities of redemption, only to yank them away again and again. And each one will rewrite that story forever, knowing the plot, guessing the theme, inventing its meaning and dismissing its origin. What waste.
She knew from personal experience how hard loving was, how selfish and how easily sundered. Withholding sex or relying on it, ignoring children or devouring them, rerouting true feelings or locking them out. It was early September and nothing anywhere had begun to die. Maple leaves behaved as though their green was immortal. Ash trees were still climbing toward a cloudless sky. The sun began turning aggressively alive in the process of setting. Down the sidewalk between hedges and towering trees Adam floated, a spot of gold moving down a shadowy tunnel toward the mouth of a living sun.
So we are lured by beauty into a scene that ends in evil and horror. The best stories coerce us to live inside terror and instability, in the messiness of human experience. They force us to care deeply for everyone, even the villains. But too often we get a curt fable instead, one more interested in outrage than possibilities for empathy.
The narrative hovers, averts its eyes and sucks its teeth at the misfortunes of the characters. And like Bride, I was left hungering for warmth.
I wanted to be lured even deeper into that awful golden landscape. We interviewed her in Home Page World U.