It's hard to approach anything new by Toni Morrison with any degree of objectivity. The weight of all she has written hangs heavy in the air, making it tough to look beyond her breath-taking prose.
She still employs her well-honed techniques in the form of magical realism, that catch-all term for much of her recent fiction, as well as sudden shifts between distinct viewpoints. What marks God Help The Child as different from her earlier work, is that it is set in our time.
The novel revolves around a young girl with 'blue-black' skin called Lula Ann Bridewell or 'Bride', who is neglected and abused by her light skinned parents, Louis and Sweetness. As she grows into a wilful young woman, she loses her lover, Booker, and then drops everything to go in search of him.
An accident leads her to a white family, where she meets a mysterious white girl called Rain, who is dealing with her own painful past. Naturally, this facile paraphrasing of the plot ignores the sheer beauty of the language employed to tell the tale. She uses her characters to explore issues of race and identity that have been important to her since Sula was published.
She continues to write sentences that appear to have been dipped in honey, but fails to let us get under the skin of her protagonist. There are a number of ideas at work here, but also a few subplots that simply fail to reach any resolution. In the hands of a lesser writer, this could have been a disaster.
That it still manages to be a fabulous novel is testament to Morrison's powerful voice. She still has a lot to say and, for that alone, we ought to be grateful.
- God Help The Child, Toni Morrison, Penguin Random House, 599. Available in leading bookstores.