This novel purports itself as being Toni Morrison’s first novel set in our present moment. Well, then I think it’s safe to say based on the work that she doesn’t think too much of the present. There’s a damning feeling that runs throughout this entire novel where it feels like every single character is pretty much just prescribed to awful lives. Even the few (and I mean few) moments where there is some moment of light to be found it’s run down by the barrel of negativity that I think Morrison regards the present with. Let that be my first warning. This is good reading, but it’s not the book you want to pick up if you want some affirmation of how life is worth dealing with.
I say that because there is not a single character in this novel who isn’t lowdown and shameful. All of these people (with the exception of one) seem to be awful people. Morrison shines in explaining what has driven each of these people to their flaws and how it makes them conflict with the world around them. In fact, she does it beautifully and even with a bit of fantasy thrown in the mix to send the message home. But make no mistake, these aren’t the kind of people you would want to form any lasting relationships with.
This novel is full of deeper themes and context. But other reviewers have probably done that better analyzations of that than I could months ago. So I’m not going to go that route because there’s no need to embarrass myself. I’m going to zoom in on these characters and how each of them are people I just can’t have in my life in 2015.
Bride is the girl that’s good for the party. You take her around because she’s pretty, makes you look better by osmosis and can probably get you into all the best parties. You don’t get close to a person like Bride. Why? Because she doesn’t love herself and people that don’t love themselves will always find a way to spread that into your life. It’s a sad thing because Bride, like so many other young black women out there, is dealing with the effects of a lifetime of colorism. She’s dark-skinned and only found some marginal acceptance of that when it made her exotic in an industry hell bent on normally labeling women like her as ugly. The fact she refuses to wear anything but white is nothing but the brutal effects of colorism at work.
So no, you don’t form any deep bond with a woman like Bride. Maybe you can if you’re coming at it from the perspective of trying to teach her something. But when you love yourself it can be a draining experience to have to constantly deal with someone like Bride. She’s the person you try and help from a distance. This young woman is the definition of the Bag Lady that Erkyah Badu was trying to tell us all about. Hang around her too long and you’ll start tripping on her luggage.
Booker is that man you want to take home and probably bang the hell out of on a consistent basis. He’s tall, muscular, smart and can put it down. I mean shit at first glance why wouldn’t you want to snag this guy up? On the surface, he seems like he’s got it all, but once he spends a few days listlessly at your apartment you realize he ain’t shit. But you keep making excuses for the fact he ain’t shit. Because you remember the sex. And you remember how long it’s been since the last time you encountered a guy as real as him because even though he ain’t shit there’s something genuine about it. He’ll say things that are so insightful and he’s willing to challenge you in a way no else does. That kind of word play bores its way into you and it’s hard to break that connection once made.
But ultimately those brains are an excuse. They’re a reason for him not to achieve and do better for himself because he looks at the bigger picture and doesn’t possibly see how his living changes anything. Those brains give him a reason to run. Make no mistake, a man like Booker will always run because even when they find something good, they’re going to look for their reason to run like Republicans look for a reason to hate the President. Yes, it’s that serious and that relentless. He just runs. This is not the man you decide to have a relationship with. Guys lie Booker keep their lovers from having a good relationship after them for a very long time.
Brooklyn is that triflin ass friend we all have had in our lives and for the longest time you believed they had your back. All the best advice and support seemed to come from them. You felt like you could talk to them honestly and just be open about anything. But like the snake they are, they were just waiting until you took that one misstep that let them sink their fangs in. And in this moment of weakness, you’re dealing with so many other things you don’t even realize you’ve been bitten. That’s the kind of person Brooklyn is.
I can’t help but to wonder to if this is somewhat of a statement from Morrison about the precarious nature of interracial friendships. There has always existed a bit of wisdom from older black people warning that getting too comfortable around white people (even friends) is something that can put you in danger. Sadly, there are elements of that wisdom which still have some application in today’s society. But I think Morrison, being older, might be coming at it from a more archaic viewpoint. Or that could just be my optimism making excuses…
Sweetness is that sorry ass old person you can’t stand, but you know you have to respect anyway because they’re old. There’s one person in particular I can think of. I know that so much of their life has been spent being hateful and mean-spirited. Breaking up the marriages of their sons and trying just as hard to break up the remaining ones. Always finding a way to demean and create conflict. Someone who should be operating as a matriarch, but instead is the cause of all her families’ strife. Ok so I just had a going in moment. Sweetness isn’t that bad, but she’s still pretty awful for rejecting her child for being too dark skinned. Its lucky Bride isn’t more unstable with a parent like Sweetness.
This novel is pretty much a guide on people you need to stay away from. Take note of the symptoms of each character as you read the book. Keep those notes close and if people in your life seem to fit into these molds then you might need to do some reevaluating. Take the road of Booker and run!