As expected from Toni Morrison’s books, this is a short (but disturbing) novel about a young woman trying to come to terms with her identity as a black woman.
Bride is a beautiful young woman who on the outside seems very confident and successful.
However, on the inside, she is unable to come to terms with a loveless childhood. Her father abandons the family when she was a child, and her mother (who is black but does not look it) cannot accept her daughter’s high black complexion.
To win her mother’s love, Bride does something terrible as a child leaving her a guilt-ridden and miserable adult. She seems to find a stable relationship with her boyfriend Booker, but he is also facing demons from his past.
Will the two be able to overcome their issues and forge a new life ahead?
This is probably the most contemporary book of Morrison’s that I have read. It’s also possibly the one with the least magical realistic quality that I have come to expect from her, which was a bit of a disappointment. But it is also the easiest of her books that I have read, and also the most optimistic, I might add.
At the heart of the story is the issue of self-love based on self-appearance. Because Bride is black, significantly darker than her mother who can pass of as white, she faces a lot of discrimination as a child. The most hurtful is the discrimination by her mother, who stays aloof and unloving most of the time. The most damning indictment is the discrimination based on skin color by colored people themselves. This is familiar ground for Morrison who talks about this exact issue in her first book – The Bluest Eye.
Another theme is the one of sexual harassment of children. To me, this was the most disturbing part. It seemed like every person in the book had either experienced or witnessed extreme sexual harassment as a child. I have noticed that this is also a familiar theme in her novels, and I am not sure why it is so prevalent. What I do know is that I thought there was a bit too much of it. With a lesser author, I might have even used the word gratuitous but I respect Morrison as a writer too much to do that.
What I liked in the book is how deceptively simple it is on the surface while at the same time covering so much moral ground. All the characters in the book were drawn quickly yet masterfully, and I felt I knew them very well in spite of the fact that only a few pages are devoted to some of them.
They are all problematic in some way or the other. The most problematic character is the main character Bride herself. I thought it was interesting how complex she was – sometimes coming off very naïve, dumb, and weak, at other times, compassionate and understanding, at other times very self-perceptive. None of the characters in the book can be described in simple terms. Even Bride’s mother who throughout comes across as hard and cold gets a chance to have the last word at the end of the book, and we can see how she might have perceived the situation:
Oh, yeah, I feel bad sometimes about how I treated Lula Ann when she was little. But you have to understand: I had to protect her. She didn’t know the world. There was no point in being tough or sassy even when you were right.
Not in a world where you could be sent to a juvenile lockup for talking back or fighting in school, a world where you’d be the last one hired and the first one fired. She couldn’t know any of that or how her black skin would scare white people or make them laugh and trick her.
What I didn’t like in this book was the rampant pedophilia and I think it weakened the impact of what could have been a powerful story, without adding enough meat to the specific incidents. I don’t know how to explain it, but I would have preferred if Morrison had chosen to highlight and emphasize only Bride’s and Booker’s experiences in detail and skipped the others. As it stands now, it all felt too overdone.
Overall, I would say this book was a good read, but not up to Morrison’s usual high standards. If you are new to Morrison, you should probably try her earlier books to understand just why she’s such a brilliant author.
You could also read this absolutely brilliant New York Times profile to get an idea of the background to her books and the reasons she writes the way she does.
Huge thanks to Penguin Random House for sending me this book for review consideration.
You can also purchase a copy of this book from Amazon