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[424] Love – Toni Morrison

” He was dead. The dirty one who introduced her to nasty and blamed it on her. He was dead. The powerful one who abandoned his own kin and transferred rule to her playmate. He was dead. Well, good. She would go and view the wreck he left behind. ” (8,165)

Love is probably Toni Morrison’s most accessible novel, free of the unrealistic elements and magical realism that she is known for. In lyrical flashbacks, Morrison slowly reveals the glories and horrors of the past, as she tells the story of Bill Cosey and his famous hotel resort, a premium vacation destination for rich blacks. The hotel has long been closed when the novel begins, but those who have survived his death seem to live forever in the past. Cosey—a grandfather, boss, stranger, father, stranger, and lover—shapes the yearnings and nostalgia that dominates lives of several women long after his death. Their reflections make up the rich tapestry of an intricate family in Love.

Mounting the unlit stairs, glancing over her shoulder, Junior had to guess what the other rooms might hold. It seemed to her that each woman lived in a spotlight separated—or connected—by the darkness between them. (1,25)

Shelters in the family mansion are two feuding women, the Cosey’s widow Heed and her step-granddaughter Christine, who wormed herself back into the family’s fold by claiming filial responsibility for her frail, mentally unsound mother. The arrival of Junior, agirl with mismanaged past Heed hires as a secretary, sets the story in motion. Besides the subplot of Cosey’s suspicious death, the vicious fight over his coffin, the provenance of money, and his disputed will, Morrison unveils how Heed and Christine, a year apart, shared a pure conditional love that bonds the two in friendship until Bill Cosey takes Heed as his bride—when she was only eleven. Their relationship is almost gothic in its passion and ferocity, as their childhood roles are reversed over the years, with Heed the heiress and Christine the servant. Heed has outsmarted all the women in the family and matures to a “grown-up nasty.”

Her struggle with Heed was neither mindless or wasted. She would never forget how she had fought for her, defied her mother to protect her, to give her clothes: dresses, shorts, a bathing suit, sandals; to picnic alone on the beach. They shared stomachache laughter, a secret language, and knew as they slept together that one’s dreaming was the same as the other one’s. (6,132)

For years Christine tries to gather evidence to fight for primacy in the family, but Heed outwits her as well as the watchful hotel cook L (might very well be short for Love), who provides a choral commentary and weaves together the different narratives. L has interfered with the women’s brawl in order to give Cosey a dignified funeral. Although the physical fights withdraw to an acid silence, Heed and Christine invent other ways to underscore their bitterness. If Cosey has stolen their innocence, it’s Christine’s mother that has imbued hate in them such that it enslaves them forever.

In re-creating the family history, Morrison deftly delivers a profound character-study of the women. She forces them to to the edge of endurance, places them in extreme situations, and makes them struggle to identify themselves in order to fulfill an essential self. As in any of her novel, the sense of loss prevails in Love, where opening pangs of guilt, rage, fatigue, and despair all converge to hatred. Arguments seethe and accusations run rife. Like L has reflected early on in the book, every woman has a sad story: mean mothers, false-hearted men or malicious friends. They learn how sudden, how profound loneliness could be and seek love at the expense of their innocence.

He took all my childhood away from me, girl.
He took all of you away from me. (9,194)

Love is an unforgettable novel about friendship, the purity of bond and love, untainted by any racial and sexual label, that is only found in innocent children. The story reminds us that any passion experienced in adulthood is secondary to a child’s first chosen love in terms of innocence and rawness.  Once again in this accomplished novel Morrison advocates that African-American characters can speak for all humanity, even though within the story’s frame they are bound by their culture.

202 pp. Hardback. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]


6 Responses

  1. I haven’t read a book by Morrison yet, but your review has persuaded me to add one to my queue. I like novels in which children (epitome of innocence, mostly “untainted” by life’s experiences) feature. What a marriage at eleven does to a child, I can’t imagine. And all these scarred people living in the past…

    • The most difficult book(s) is probably The Bluest Eye or Beloved, full of magical realism and unrealistic elements. Takes time to read through and disentangle the present and reality from the imaginary. Love is very accessible in terms of writing.

  2. I haven’t read this one of hers yet, but I did recently listen to a fantastic interview about it with Eleanor Wachtel recently. It’s here, if you’re interested in that kind of listening; they are long shows and rather detail-oriented, but they are amongst my favourite bookish listening. (And, yes, I’m really behind in my listening: this is not a new interview!)

    • Thank you so much for the link. There’s a side story to the acquisition of Love. I was meant to look for Paradise, another book that is very accessible and straight forward, but by accident I ended up taking home with me Love, which is also a great read.

  3. My first Morrison novel was “Song of Solomon”, which I re-read the first chapter about 4 times during the read of the novel. Difficult, but very rewarding. “Love” sounds like an easier read.

    • I have yet to tackle Song of Solomon, but known how close our reading taste is, I will most likely pick it up and read in the new year. Toni Morrison is tough to read but her language is just so silky, lush, and puny.

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