The Resolution Project: For my New Year’s resolution this year (that being 2011), I decided to try and read all one hundred of the novels picked by Time Magazine as the best since their inception in 1923 to the list’s publication in 2005. I exempted myself from reading ones I’ve already read, leaving some eighty-six or so to read before the end of this year. Some spoilers lie ahead, so be warned.
“It’s gonna hurt, now,” said Amy. “Anything dead coming back to life hurts.” (p. 35)
Beloved, by Toni Morrison
This book is a ghost story that takes place after the end of the American Civil War. Sethe is a former slave who escaped north while very pregnant. Some years after her ordeal, her house at I24 is continually haunted by a malevolent spirit whom she and her daughter Denver believe to be the ghost of her youngest daughter, known only by the name on her headstone, “Beloved”. Later, Paul D, another former slave from Sethe’s old workplace Sweet Home, shows up after many years spent on the run, and proceeds to force the spirit out of the house. Finally, after this is done, a nameless girl of Denver’s age shows up at Sethe’s door, claiming to be the reincarnation of the dead child. What happens next is a psychological drama of the highest order, as all of the house’s inhabitants must come to terms with their pasts, and with the girl whose coming seems to herald a dark future.
This was quite the book. I felt as I was reading it that I was developing a contentious relationship with it, with a little too much postmodern fuckaroundery near the middle for my tastes, but it really picked up by the end and I quite liked it. Beloved is definitely not a plot-driven book; rather, in typical postmodern style, it focuses more on the points of view and histories of all the characters in the plot, at that exact moment in time and beyond. Much of the book is taken up by stories and “rememory”, people telling each other of harrowing escapes and the trudgeries of a life spent born into servitude. The indignities suffered by the main characters really make you think about the psychological torment that would come from being a slave, and having your very person be measured in monetary value rather than any sort of human quality. Some of the passages seared my mind; Paul D’s remembering a prison camp (I think anyway) in Alfred, Georgia, is absolutely horrifying, as is the ultimate fate of Sixo, another slave.
The book also possessed another trait, one I’d consider postmodern, but this may be my own personal interpretation, a character who is referred to all the time but never really shows up for more than a moment. This is Sethe’s husband Halle, who is alluded to constantly by those who knew him (and imagined about by those who didn’t get the chance to), but is only briefly used as a narrative element on his own, and his eventual fate is never resolved.
Beloved, too, is a fascinating character. Is she a crazy person? An actual reincarnation? Some sort of demonic possession? You never really find out for sure, and by the end, I feel I was imagining her to be all of them at the same time. I also quite liked Morrison’s depiction of what I’m assuming is the underworld, or limbo, somewhere where dead things are anyway. It’s creepy as all get out. The schoolteacher is also used really well, never really elaborated on more than being a figure of absolute evil intentions, which is powerful as hell. Although I could have done with a little less of the wacky antics of Beloved as she begins to come into her power, I quite liked this book by the end.
I knew that Oprah Winfrey had made a movie of the book in 1998, and I’m kind of curious to see it now. To be honest, I didn’t see Paul D as being old enough to be played by Danny Glover, but that wasn’t really my decision to make. Hopefully I’ll be able to track it down once my great work for this year is finished.
Here’s what Grossman had to say about the book: http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1951793_1951936_1952111,00.html
“For a used-to-be-slave woman to love anything that much was dangerous, especially if it was her children she had settled on to love. The best thing, he knew, was to love just a little bit; everything, just a little bit, so when they broke its back, or shoved it in a croaker sack, well, maybe you’d have a little love left over for the next one.” Paul D (pp. 45)
Total pages read since January 1st: 2438 pp
Next up on the Resolution Project: Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds (1938)