Monday, April 14, 2014

Beloved by Toni Morrison (16 of 166)

One Sentence Summary: The dark presence that pursues an ex-slave woman and her family creates a maelstrom of heartache and memory in its vengeful wake.

“There is a loneliness that can be rocked. Arms crossed, knees drawn up, holding, holding on, this motion, unlike a ship's, smooths and contains the rocker. It's an inside kind--wrapped tight like skin. Then there is the loneliness that roams. No rocking can hold it down. It is alive. On its own. A dry and spreading thing that makes the sound of one's own feet going seem to come from a far-off place.” 
This is a long overdue read. I paid it little mind when it appeared on reading lists in high school as an option- I was far more concerned with reading fat classics with intimidating reputations than this slender volume and its unapproachable subject. A copy found its way into my hands, and that copy into a dark corner of my closet, and there it sat and waited and waited, as so many books have done all of these years. Well, today I finally sat down with it and I read... and read... and read. I read for hours. My heart is sore. My eyes are tired. I feel a little shaky and out of sorts, because I have spent so much time, a small lifetime, on this couch, having this book move through my insides and take up roost in my heart and soul. I could not turn away from the agony and memory of these characters, now so much a part of my life, and the real world seems foggy in that special unreality that comes only from surfacing from the deep waters of a text with no bottom.

Toni Morrison writes about heartache and evil and simple goodness and pain and jealousy and need and want in ways that I have never encountered. She speaks straight to the heart of all that is fragile and secret in the heart of a person, but particularly of a woman. The reader feels keenly the shame of Sethe's life, of living in a world that can do such things, strike such fear of living, into a human being. The story comes out, a long red thread, ducking and weaving through the non-linear telling, and it is a dark flower blooming slowly. Morrison's work is switchblade poetry, deceptively beautiful and raw. Lulled by the language, you are all of a sudden locked in the simmering microcosm of 124 with its unfortunate denizens- flawed, desperate Denver, regal and shattered Sethe, blessed Paul D, Baby Suggs, holy, and Beloved- the gentle to heavy pressure of Beloved, always, haunting the house. Once again, I am reminded that the great ghost of the sins of this world bears the face of a child. 

Learning about slavery in school, there is and always will be a certain amount of separation. A detailing of the atrocities may make you pause for a day, but this book is the photograph that takes up residence behind your eyes. I once saw a black and white picture of a box of wedding rings removed from the hands of Holocaust victims. That box was so deep and wide and full and it is part of the catalog of my finite experience that informs my world view. Here we see straight into the aftershocks of humans treated as animals, denied themselves, and it is so painful and so necessary because this work of fiction, like most, walks the well-beaten paths of reality. Beloved demonstrates the power of literature simply by being- this is what a book can be: a sword and a trigger.

I will never forget these characters and what they represent. Beloved comes into your house and unless you will yourself to forget her, she never really leaves.

Shelf Status: Keeping
You May Enjoy Beloved if you enjoy: The Invisible Man, East of Eden, Night

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