This is, believe it or not, the first and only Toni Morrison I’ve ever read. While that may be surprising, you should probably understand that the last time I picked up a Morrison book it was The Bluest Eye and I was in the seventh grade – just a bit too young to really understand what was going on! So I immediately put Morrison in the “too hard to read” category and there she, sadly, remained until I was required to read Beloved for my Introduction to Literary Criticism class. And let me just say how sad I am that I let her go unread for so long!
Beloved seems to be one of those books that EVERYBODY has read, and for a long time it was a book that I always pretended I’d read. And now I can see why! The book is not only haunting in its content, but has a style that seems to oscillate between stream of consciousness and more standard but still beautiful prose. The sections narrated by Beloved – the child slaughtered by her mother, Sethe, in order to save her from being returned to a life of slavery – are confusing and dark and some of the more difficult sections to get through. However, the most disturbing aspect of the book is just how much it makes the reader sympathize with Sethe’s decision to kill her children.
Infanticide is not a subject that one readily feels prepared to sympathize with, but that is what happens in Beloved. After Sethe describes the horrors of being raped (shortly after childbirth, when her rapists also suckle her breast milk to had humiliation to the physical abuse) and Paul D describes the sodomy and violence he’s forced to endure, it is much easier to understand just what it was Sethe felt she was saving her children from. The book, then, proposes interesting dichotomies between expectations and reality, the known and the unknown, the power of the past versus the redemptive hope that the future possesses. Sethe is a woman that is phenomenally easy to relate to, and her relationship with her daughter Denver – who always partially fears Sethe after learning that her mother attempted to kill her as a child – is one of the best ways to chart the development of the characters and plot throughout the book. It may have helped slightly that I was reading this book while also studying a number of literary theories, including African American, feministy, and post-colonial theory that put the book under a number of different lenses that really helped to explore the depth of the narrative. However, that does not mean that the book needs a class to be understood! It’s an enveloping story, and one that merits working past the language to get to the content. Because, even though I was wrong to so quickly categorize Morrison as unreadable, there is a difficulty to the complexity of her writing that does require a bit more mind power to work through.
I know I said forever ago that I’d have the Best of 2009 list posted, but trying to order them (I do a top 10 list and do my best to put the books in the order of how much I liked them, but narrowing the list to 10 often proves impossible, and trying to number them even moreso!) is proving especially difficult this year. Hopefully I’ll have it up by the new year, and I know just how much you’re all looking forward to it! Happy reading!