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.