Toni Morrison is my absolute favorite author, and I'm so glad that I saved one of the best for last on my winter reading list! To tell the truth, I've only read a few of her novels (Song of Solomon, Beloved, and The Bluest Eye). But each of them has disturbed me and challenged in such a way that I couldn't help but cherish and remember them. With her words she paints heartbreaking and comfort-shattering pictures of various African-American experiences, and undertakes difficult themes including memory, suffering, self-image, identity, trauma, and truth. I found this novel at an on-campus book sale, and I just had to have it!
Love by Toni Morrison
Set somewhere on the East Coast, this novel's "present" is in the 1990s, but the story spans a history of more than 40 years. Through it, Morrison presents to readers extreme examples of women competing with each other to claim and protect what they believe belongs to them. Desperately they grapple for status, position, security, attention, men, and of course, love.
The six main female characters, especially the ones who are related to a charismatic hotel owner named Bill Cosey, see each other as venomous enemies. The main conflict is the ongoing feud between Christine (Cosey's granddaughter) and Heed (Cosey's widow). They are the same age and are originally best friends, until Cosey takes Heed as his second wife when the girls are only 11 years old. From then until their old age, they are bitter rivals determined not to be replaced, upstaged, outsmarted, or defeated by one other.
Having been dead for 25 years, Bill Cosey never makes a physical appearance in the book's present. Yet he is the most important character, looming in people's memories, imaginations, and gossip. And despite having been a philandering husband, an elitist, an irresponsible businessman, a hedonist, and a pedophile, he's the blameless "Big Daddy", the "Big Man", the "Good Man" who represents what each female character seeks in or from a male figure. Such is why each chapter's title indicates the various relationships that each female character has with him or his memory: Portrait, Friend, Stranger, Benefactor, Lover, Husband, Guardian, Father, Phantom.
Love isn't what I'm used to reading from Morrison. Its time period is closer to current times. And unlike the three books of hers that I'm familiar with, there's no element of fantasy, the supernatural, or the divine here. However, this book is just as raw in its account of womanhood and relationships, and it has quite a few bitter comedic moments. This is a great read for someone who'd like another challenging lesson from the wise woman that is Toni Morrison. It won't be a mind-bender, but prepare to be deeply saddened.
"Naturally all of them have a sad story: too much notice, not enough, or the worst kind. Some tale about dragon daddies and false-hearted men, or mean mamas and friends who did them wrong. Each story has a monster in it who made them tough instead of brave, so they open their legs rather than their hearts where that folded child is tucked." (p. 4-5)
"Hate does that. Burns off everything but itself, so whatever your grievance is, your face looks just like your enemy's." (p. 34)