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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]

Reading “Love”, Morrison

Toni Morrison always intimidates me; but after Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury I feel invincible. Love is my fifth Morrison, and she gives her usual unrealistic element in telling a story.

Her prose has the quality of speech; Morrison deliberately strives for this effect, which she calls “aural literature.” She hears her prose as she writes, and during the revision process she cuts phrasing which sounds literary or written rather than spoken. She rejects critics’ assertions that her prose is rich; to those who say her prose is poetic, she responds that metaphors are natural in black speech.

Her writing often makes me let out “ah-huh…” or hum to it. Her prose is so viciously right-on and biting:

Do they still call it infatuation? That magic ax that chops away the world in one blow, leaving only the couple standing there trembling? Whatever they call it, it leaps over anything, takes the biggest chair, the largest slice, rules the ground wherever it walks, from a mansion to a swamp, and its selfishness is its beauty…. People with no imagination feed it with sex — the clown of love. They don’t know the real kinds, the better kinds, where losses are cut and everybody benefits. It takes a certain intelligence to love like that — softly, without props. (9)

Every page of this book evokes love and hate through intricate family history. It takes as much effort to hate as to love:

Heed’s look, cold and long, had been anything but inviting, so Christine just slammed past her through the door. With very few words they came to an agreement of sorts because May was hopeless, the place filthy, Heed’s arthritis was disabling her hands, and because nobody in town could stand them. So the one who had attended private school kept house while the one who could barely read ruled it. The one who had been sold by a man battled the one who had been bought by one. The level of desperation it took to force her way in was high, for she was returning to a house whose owner was willing to burn it down just to keep her out. Had once, in fact, set fire to Christine’s bed for precisely that purpose. So this time, for safety she settled in the little apartment next to the kitchen. Some relief surfaced when she sawed Heed’s useless hands, but knowing what the woman was capable of still caused her heart to beat raggedly in Heed’s presence. No one was slyer or more vindictive. So the door between the kitchen and Christine’s rooms had a hidden key and a very strong lock. (86)

So riveting is this novel, Morrison’s eighth, published in 2003. Literally I’m glued to it unless I have to attend to my obligations at work. On top of the family drama, it’s the personal histories that make these women so attractive to read. Never mess with women, let alone women who have been hurt.

Red Thread, Endless Story

An ancient Chinese proverb speaks of a silken red thread of destiny which connects one person to another. It is said that this magical cord may tangle or stretch out but never break. At the wedding I was reminded of this traditional practice at the sight of a red thread tied up around the wrists of the bride and groom. The same red thread also ties up two pair of coconuts, which pronounced as “ye zi”, symbolize “grandfather and son” with the implication of bearing lots of children.

“An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet,
regardless of time, place, or circumstance.
The thread may stretch or tangle,
but it will never break.”

The red thread comes up in the reading of The Teahouse Fire by Ellis Avery today. The legend has since also become a popular myth in Japanese culture and other East Asian cultures.

“There’s a red thread that ties you to the person you’re going to marry. I thought Akio was at the other end of mine, but he wasn’t. It’s not up to me. Do you understand? So it doesn’t matter.” [138]

My mother used to tell me that love and marriage at her times were very simple. There weren’t that many places where one can meet people. Parents usually kept curfew that girls had to come home earlier than Cinderella did. Their future husbands might be a neighbor, a co-worker, or a family relation that paid visit at the house. I can’t help wondering why, with so much possibility for connection, aren’t people feel more connected to one another on a personal, intimate level? Did the scarcity of connections then actually make it easier for people to commit to a relationship? I see a world of people who are fearful of committing, who are haunted by their failure, and whose red threads are all entangled.

Endless Story – Yuna Ito

If you haven’t changed your mind
Then I want you by my side Tonight

I’m so tired of always having to bluff
Everytime I think about you baby, I feel so young
If I could just tell you I miss you
It’s so hard to say I’m sorry

You see, I want to sing this song, not for just anyone
but just for you
An ENDLESS STORY that keeps on shining
Always, I wanna show you, forever and ever

Memories of our time together
this way, they don’t go away

Once I knew that the warmth between us had disappeared,
gentle tears started to spread over my chest
This is not where it ends, I’m missing you
please don’t let go of my hand

You see, I wish I could sing this song, just for you
just one more time
An ENDLESS STORY of undying love
tell me why, please tell me, forever and ever

You see, I want to sing this song, not for just anyone
but just for you
An ENDLESS STORY that keeps on shining
Always, I wanna show you, forever and ever

You see, I wish I could sing this song, just for you
just one more time
An ENDLESS STORY of undying love
tell me why, please tell me, forever and ever