Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Beloved by Toni Morrison

When I saw Beloved by Toni Morrison in our little free library at work, I knew it COULD be the book to bust my slump. That might sound odd, since Morrison's work is known to be quite dense and challenging, but that's what I was craving...something heftier than the "sea of threes" I've been stuck in lately.

Morrison delivered with this book. Technically, it was a re-read. I picked it up for the first time in 1998 or so. I was a high school junior looking for a good ghost story, but this is much more a novel about being haunted than a book about a ghost. 

In the troubled years following the Civil War, the spirit of a murdered child haunts the Ohio home of a former slave. This angry, destructive ghost breaks mirrors, leaves its fingerprints in cake icing, and generally makes life difficult for Sethe and her family; nevertheless, the woman finds the haunting oddly comforting for the spirit is that of her own dead baby, never named, thought of only as Beloved. A dead child, a runaway slave, a terrible secret--these are the central concerns of Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved (from Goodreads).

At the beginning of the book, Sethe and her daughter, Denver, are navigating life alone. Sethe works in a local restaurant and Denver is lonely, kept company mostly by the spirit. Soon, one of Sethe's fellow slaves from the plantation, Sweet Home, shows up on her doorstep. Paul D, like all of the slaves, has had a rough time...first within slavery itself and then as a runaway and prisoner. He's a drifter, continually running from the past. 

All of the characters in Beloved, contend heavily with the past. They run from it, shy away from the memories, or try too hard to atone for it...to the detriment of their loved ones. The idea of the spirit in Sethe's house is such a massive metaphor. So touching, terrible, and raw. 

Morrison's writing is difficult to grasp at times. She likes to plop the reader down in a situation, knowing very little, and let us wriggle and struggle a bit as the truth unfolds. I was totally fine with that, since the wriggling and struggling was worthwhile. Beautiful, terrible words. A lovely, terrifying story. Lines like this one...
It wasn't blacks who brought the jungle within them. It was the white folks who put it there, and it grew until it overtook them. 
That's a slight paraphrase since I don't have the book with me. I noted it as I was reading the book, and then it came up again when I had an impromptu literature discussion with a friend of mine from graduate school on Facebook. 

There were times Beloved turned my stomach with its scenes are barbarism, and there were times it made my feelings soar. The writing was just amazing, and the overall plotting was excellent. I already loved Morrison for The Bluest Eye, but I'm glad I gave this book another go at a different time in life when I could appreciate it more. I'll definitely be reading it again in the future. 



Pub. Date: 1987
Publisher: Plume/Penguin
Format: Trade Paperback
ISBN: 0452264464
Source: Borrowed!


33 comments:

  1. I so need to read this book, I can't believe I haven't read any Morrison! And I love the thought of picking up something challenging to get out of the Sea of Threes, I think it's what I need to do.

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    1. You haven't read any Morrison?! I think you'll totally love her books. TOTALLY. I'm kind of stalled out since I was at a conference for the last three days and didn't read at all. No idea where to go next. I'm liking Bastard Out of Carolina, but it's gonna hurrrrt.

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  2. The only Morrison I've read is The Bluest Eye and I loved it! Need to make time for more of her novels.

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    1. I loved that one, too. So so so good (and worthy of a re-read). I hope you can squeeze in some more of her work!

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  3. Good Morning. I just discovered your blog through Book Bloggers International. I read your in Dallas, I'm over in Fort Worth.
    I've been reading, reviewing, and blogging since 2007. I have two blogs. Wonderful to meet you, and I've joined all your social media spots!
    Have a great Wednesday.
    Annette at http://impressionsinink.blogspot.com

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    1. Hi, Annette! It's always great to meet another fellow Texas blogger! Thank you for following me via social media. I'm looking forward to checking out your blog. :)

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  4. I've never read this book either...clearly a shame. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Anita! It really was a stellar book.

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  5. Though the subject matter can be hard to swallow, this is such a beautiful book. I'm glad you enjoyed it more this time around. Morrison is a challenging author but reading her work always makes a "light bulb" go off with me.

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    1. Isn't it? Morrison is just astounding. Seriously powerful metaphors, especially. That had my head spinning.

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  6. I agree that Morrison's writing can be challenging, but SO worth it! I read a number of her books when quite a bit younger and am curious what my older self will think upon re-reading. I'm guessing they will be just as good, but a much richer experience.

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    1. Amen to "worth it!" My buddy who I was talking about from grad school said this is one of four books he re-reads at various points in life to see how they translate. I think that's a great plan, and I will definitely read it again to see how it changes or what I get out of it at varying points.

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  7. This is definitely a must-read. I was really affected reading it that I haven't had the gust to re-read. It's one of those books that really hit hard.

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    1. It does hit very hard. A friend of mine says it's one of a handful of books he re-reads at various points in life (which I mentioned in a previous comment, so I hope I'm not repeating too much). I think this is one of those books I'd do that with as well. Gotta mentally prepare first, though.

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  8. I read this last year as part of a MOOC and loved it. I think I skim read it at some stage before that, but years and years ago. It is such a harrowing read, but so worth it.

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    1. I would love to read it for a class...MOOC or otherwise! The discussion would be fantastic.

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  9. I'm embarrassed to admit that the only Morrison I've ever read was Song of Solomon and that was in high school. I'll have to fix that at some point.It's always nice to find a book to help get you out of a slump.

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    1. Yes it is! Slumps are the worst. I still am in one just slightly, but hoping once this busy month winds down, I'll be back on track. Maybe I just need more Morrison to de-slump me again!

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  10. I read this in college. It was intense, in a good way. If you need something hefty without being too dense, Morrison is the way to go. Great stuff!

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    1. Amen sister! I really think I'll keep her other books close at hand when I'm stuck in a sea of threes again. It's inevitable.

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  11. The subject matter was too much for me. I read Beloved in college and felt sick to my stomach throughout -- I know that it's an important book, and I wouldn't take back the time I spent reading it, but I probably won't reread it. I want to try another Morrison at some point -- scale of one to Beloved, how upsetting is The Bluest Eye?

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  12. This is the only Morrison I've read, but it's such an incredible book. I was so blown away that I didn't even have the words to describe what makes it so powerful.

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  13. So far Toni Morrison and I have not clicked. I know I have read her before, but I am not even positive which book(s). I definitely need to try her again!

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  14. I will have to read this one...it sounds like I'd enjoy it more than The Bluest Eye. As said above, by others, I haven't really clicked with Morrison.

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  15. I knew you'd like this one. I'm curious to see how many people will actually finish it. Not an easy read at all for the writing or the subject matter, brutal and cuts to the core. Thanks for the lovely review and I'm looking forward to our read along of The Goldfinch in June.

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  16. This is such an emotional book I can still feel reading it a decade later. This was part of my literature and horror course during my undergrad years, and I adored reading it.

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  17. Read Beloved in school and those "forced" readings often took all the pleasure out of a book for me. Need to re-read it for myself! Bastard Out of Carolina was a tough read. Look forward to your thoughts on that one.

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  18. "She likes to plop the reader down in a situation, knowing very little, and let us wriggle and struggle a bit as the truth unfolds."

    That's such a perfect way to phrase it! I have struggled with some of her books for that very reason, but I also end up loving them for the writing and her depth.

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  19. I enjoyed this pretty well when I read it in high school, but I think I'd appreciate it more on a reread. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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  20. I've never read any Morrison, but I'm not sure I'd want to read (or start) with this one. Thanks for the review.

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  21. I'm looking forward to reading any book by this author!
    Every reader of Morrison seems to be overwhelmed for the intensity of the stories she tells.

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  22. I have read and I have attempted to read several of Toni Morrison's novels. This is the one and only book of hers that I can say I loved. I thought it was incredibly powerful and there are so many scenes that remain in embedded in my mind. I rarely re-read books, but this might be worthwhile, especially if I can get it on audio.

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  23. I've never read any Morrison, but I must! I wonder if this is the book I should start with, or another one. The Pale Blue Eye, maybe? And would she be good on audiobook, or is she someone I should read in a physical format?

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