Spare and unsparing, God Help the Child—the first novel by Toni Morrison to be set in our current moment—weaves a tale about the way the sufferings of childhood can shape, and misshape, the life of the adult.
At the center: a young woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty, her boldness and confidence, her success in life, but which caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love.
There is Booker, the man Bride loves, and loses to anger. Rain, the mysterious white child with whom she crosses paths. And finally, Bride’s mother herself, Sweetness, who takes a lifetime to come to understand that “what you do to children matters. And they might never forget.”Ever since I took a seminar class on Toni Morrison in college, I’ve been a big fan of her work, and I was excited to pick up God Help the Child. Morrison’s characters come to life, and though we may only meet briefly in the pages of her books, you come to feel like you’ve known them for years. Her wisdom and experience exude from her stories, and I always learn a lot.
Even though the description says the novel is set in our current moment, I really felt that the story was timeless. Besides a few mentions of modern technology, I could easily believe if it said 1920’s or 1950’s or the 1960’s. The focal point is on the characters, and technology and modern society doesn’t play too much of a role in the plot.
Anger, pity, jealousy – Morrison develops her characters through their personal experiences and makes you feel something for them. Gold Help the Child is told through multiple perspectives, which is common with a number of Morrison’s novels. Child abuse – psychological, physical, and sexual – is a key theme in the novel and the development of the character’s experiences as adults.
Born with dark, blue-black skin, the central character Bride was raised by Sweetness, a mother who couldn’t bear to event touch her and whose affection stopped short of neglect. However, Bride grows to become a successful career woman in the cosmetics industry, and, with the help of a fashion consultant, learns to love herself through accentuating what her mother found so detestable.
Unexpectedly, Booker, the man she’s been seeing, skips town; his last words, “You not the woman I want.” This leads Bride to a trip through the country to Whiskey, Booker’s hometown. On the way, she wrecks her car and ends up spending six weeks recovering with a rural couple and Rain, the pale skinned girl they’ve taken in. This is where I would have liked to have seen a bit more development. Bride and Rain connect in a way, but their relationship clearly isn’t that important to the main plot.
After Bride recovers, she continues on her path to Whiskey where she plans to confront Booker. Along the way, we learn an important incident in Bride’s childhood that led to a series of events that came between the lovers. The novel closes with Sweetness reflecting on the lasting affect parents have on their children’s lives.
I appreciated this novel like many of Morrison’s, but I put it down wanting more. Perhaps it’s because it’s under 200 pages? I wanted to see more of the relationship between Bride and Rain, as they story only hinted at a connection, but, as in real life, sometimes those connections are fleeting. Overall, I thought God Help the Child was another of Morrison’s inspiring stories.