Thursday, July 1, 2010

#4: Love

OMG u r so damn CONGRUENT. I mean, a book called Love for a reading project on books you love? It's so thematic it kills me, so thematic my facility with language has run screaming for the hills and I am left with the vocabulary of a 14-year-old Justin Bieber fanatic. I E> u!

That's a heart. Sorry. I'm not exactly a ninja with the emoticons.

Love is by Toni Morrison, an author I confess I've always hated. She's not a bad writer, but she is, in my judgment, an overwriter, prone to lavender-tinged prose and the kind of woman-power magical realism that has turned me away from a phalanx (no, a coven! No, a sharing circle!) of authors, including Alice Hoffman, Sarah Addison Allen, Laura Esquivel, and Joanne Harris.

(An orange has four quarters, damn it! And water and chocolate cannot be substituted for one another, unless possibly you have lost your tongue to a glossectomy and can no longer taste. Also you'd have to be blind. And have no nose.)

I guess what I'm saying is that Toni Morrison and I have different points of view. In her books, emotion bends reality: anger conjures storms, love heals, the past poisons you. In my book, reality bends emotion. The world happens to you; you deal with it. End of story.

But taking another person's perspective, while often irritating, is seldom wasteful. At the most it expands you; at the least, you sojourn outside of your head. And so I read Love over a series of midsummer afternoons, sipping sweet tea the whole way.

Love is the story of Bill Cosey, a fast-talking hotel magnate who birthed, then ran into the ground, a resort for wealthy African Americans in the first part of this century.

Except that's the first lie Love tells us: it's not about Cosey at all, but rather the women who alternately plagued, cosseted, accommodated, loved, hated, and were abused by him. Decades after Cosey's death, Heed, his final wife, and Christine, his grandaughter, live locked together in silent battle in the house he left behind. They loathe one another, each consumed by her plans to thwart and hurt the other. Into this cold war stumbles Junior, an opportunistic eighteen-year-old just out of Corrections who wants only, so she claims, to survive.

That's another lie, of course, and over the brief length of her novel Morrison skillfully presents, then unwraps, one prevarication after another. It's an arresting striptease: Morrison's prose may be overwrought, but her plotting is lithe, and her characters reveal themselves to themselves, and themselves to you, with the awkward grace of pole dancers.

Love is the wife you didn't know you married but uncover decades later, one hand on the spoon, the other on her hip. It's the fish you didn't understand you caught, the letter you didn't know you had written until you saw the one you got in return. Love is tricky little novel, and not an uninteresting one. Love and hate, Morrison shows us, are head and tails of the same coin.

Which, if true, reframes my hatred of Morrison. Do I hate Love? Do I love Love?

I'm not sure, and, thanks to Morrison, I'm not sure it matters.

1 comment:

Noa said...

I agree that her prose is often overwrought, but I did love the way the beginning and the end were verbal bookends. Beautiful.