Finally Reading Toni Morrison

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Somehow I’ve managed to get to the ripe old age of 30 without ever having read anything by Toni Morrison. This seems to be the kind of year where I finally read all kinds of authors I hadn’t before!  The good news is that I’ve now read a book by Toni Morrison.

The bad news is that I didn’t get it.

Here’s the story I was expecting from God Help the Child:

(From Goodreads) At the center: a woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty, her boldness and confidence, her success in life; but which caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love until she told a lie that ruined the life of an innocent woman, a lie whose reverberations refuse to diminish . . . Booker, the man Bride loves and loses, whose core of anger was born in the wake of the childhood murder of his beloved brother . . . Rain, the mysterious white child, who finds in Bride the only person she can talk to about the abuse she’s suffered at the hands of her prostitute mother . . . and Sweetness, Bride’s mother, who takes a lifetime to understand that “what you do to children matters. And they might never forget.”

I was ready for the story of a mother and daughter coming to terms with the damage their expectations had done to their relationship. I thought that it would be a redemptive story, one that explored the nuances of a complicated mother daughter relationship. I was ready for serious subject matter, told in a way that would break my heart and make me glad for writers like Toni Morrison who are able to expertly handle such horrible things.

Instead, I got a story where a beautiful, smart, successful young woman is destroyed by the end of a relationship with a man who isn’t completely honest with her about where he came from and what’s happened to him. And she isn’t honest with him either. It’s mostly just two people lying to each other. She spends the entire (mercifully short) book trying to find him and make him take her back.

If you’ve been around this blog for any length of time you know that I HATE these kinds of stories. Had it been about Bride’s quest for peace following the dissolution of a long-term relationship and realizing that she needs to confront some of her own demons, I could have got behind that. But this book took all kinds of weird turns – Bride’s bizarre accident that lands her in some kind of backwoods hippie household for weeks on end, looked after by an older couple and the child that lives with them that they kind of stole even though the life she had was a horrific one. And still there was barely anything there about Bride and her mother. The biggest thing about that relationship was the complete lack of any kind of relationship.

There’s no doubt that the prose was beautiful – I’m not dumb enough to argue that Morrison can’t write. She obviously can. Really well. I just didn’t connect to this book; I think I missed something crucial that would have had it sit with me long after I’d finished the last page.

17 thoughts on “Finally Reading Toni Morrison

  1. Your review makes me hesitant to read this now! I wasn’t sure whether I’d like this (especially with the complicated-sounding synopsis) but I was curious because it seems like so many bloggers love Toni Morrison. Hmmm…this might be a library read. Thanks for the honest review!

    • Seems like everyone loves Toni Morrison. I seriously feel like I’m lacking something that made me not get what must be such a perfect book. But I could not get through this book fast enough to read something else. Library book for SURE. Way too complicated for 178 pages.

      • I’m way late to Toni Morrison, too (I just read Beloved for the first time earlier this year and followed it up with this), but I’m not sure I would use this as a gauge for how much you like her work. I thought it was good, but Beloved is a whole other league. And this is the first time I’ve seen something of hers set in modern day. I’d give her another shot!

  2. Now I am glad I didn’t request this one. I was tempted. I think I will stick to her older books, which a few of are still sitting unread on my shelves. Why they are unread, I don’t know, because I really do want to read one them soon! Even after your review. 🙂 Sorry you didn’t like it – good thing it was short!

    • I still really do want to give her another chance, especially to read ‘Beloved’! But my first read of her work definitely wasn’t life changing. And maybe that’s to do with my own expectations of her work.

  3. I’m sorry to hear that your first Toni Morrison read wasn’t great. I had a similar reaction when I read Sula. I didn’t get that book. I still don’t. But I’ll repeat the other commenters here and say you should give her another shot. Try Beloved or Jazz or even The Bluest Eye.

    • I probably will. She’s still Toni Morrison and Beloved is on so many “Books To Read Before You Die” type lists, I can’t not read it! But I’m definitely glad to get the feedback from so many of you that I should definitely still read it.

  4. There is a whole group of readers who don’t get Toni Morrison and other writers like her, such as Alice Walker. Most of it is a disconnect with the story itself. I always wonder how much certain people like the stories and how many like the ability to write. And how many promote authors such as these just because academics does. I haven’t read Morrison since I was young…didn’t care for her stories then, but I’ve changed a lot, so I’d probably have to give her another try.

    • I couldn’t have put it better myself. I do think she’s probably in that class of writers that is so good at her craft that she’s lost the ability to appeal to the masses. She’s too good. And that’s not to say we’re all idiots, she’s just in a different league now. I will probably still read Beloved at some point and maybe later in my life I will want to try her again and I will have a completely different reaction. We definitely have different reactions to stories at different points in our lives!

  5. I haven’t read anything by Toni Morrison, but I can definitely appreciate that while an author’s talent is obvious, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will connect with the story they are trying to tell. Hopefully your next Toni Morrison book will be a better experience.

  6. I haven’t read this particular book, but as the others suggest, perhaps you could try another of Morrison’s books. I loved “Love”. It think that’s my favorite of her books.

  7. Bravo for finally having read Morrison. Now here’s my confession. I’m not really a fan of Morrison. I think i read her when i was too young and it damaged me. All i can remember about her books is being terribly depressed by them. I’ve only read 2 and that was about 20 years ago, but I’m still scared to go back and give her another try.

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