Is the title of the Toni Morrison novel that I read back in September. It’s a short novel with just 202 pages, but, wow, a great story, told from the perspective of many different characters, mostly in third-person narrative except for one character who speaks in the first person. It’s set in the 1990s but tells the stories of characters’ lives that reach back at least to the 1920s.
The novel is about all the women that have some kind of relationship with Bill Cosey, a successful Black hotel owner. He has a beach resort that used to be a meeting place for famous black musicians. It was very successful and made him rich, but in the 1990s it’s been shut down for years and only two women remain, Heed and Christine, who fight over Bill’s inheritance in a mutual dependent hate relationship.
Bill Cosey’s first wife was Julia. They seemed to have had a loving relationship and one son, Billy. But Julia died young. Billy married a woman named May, and they had a child, Christine. As Billy also died young, May was very concerned that Christine should became her grandfather’s heir, but Bill didn’t care for Christine, as she had the same grey eyes as his father. Bill hated his father, even though he gained a fortune from him, because the father got his money by acting as an informer for the police. Bill himself had a somewhat cordial relationship with the town’s white administration (even with the sheriff), but they only got along because he bribed them, either directly or by inviting them to lavish parties on his boat.
Christine, as a young girl of 11 had a friend named Heed the Night who was from a very poor black family. They had a very deep relationship, had their own private language and were best friends. But that ended when Bill molested and later married Heed when she was just 11. Christine viewed this as a betrayal by Heed and after that their relationship was poisoned and marked by hate. Heed couldn’t speak of her molestation and Christine, who felt dirty because she saw Bill masturbate in her room, could also not speak of it. Both felt dirtied by these experiences. Christine grew up and left her home, but had to return later, destitute. She then lived with Heed in the house that Heed had inherited from Bill, who was dead long ago (being so much older than her). The will was a very strange one, just a line on an old restaurant menu. Christine sought to contest the will and Heed sought to forge a better one with the aid of a young woman just out of juvenile jail, Junior Viviane.
Junior sees a picture of Bill and is fascinated by him. She imagines him as a kind of father figure while also having sexual thought about him. She is hired by Heed to find old papers with Bill’s handwriting to then forge a definite will that can’t be contested. Junior has a love affair with a younger boy, Romen, who is the grandson of Vida and Sandler Gibbon, who were both employees and kind of friends with Bill. Junior is a manipulator and is at least partly responsible for an accident that caused Heed’s death.
Another woman in Bill’s circle of women is Celestial, who appears to have been his lover. She was an object of admiration and fascination to Christine and Heed when they were still friends, but she doesn’t otherwise appear much in the novel. Bill, however, fed up with the other women in his life, specially Heed, May and Christine, wanted to leave all his fortune to her. In this he was foiled by his friend L, who was also his cook. L had a lot of influence on Bill, and loved him as a friend, but was critical of his marriage with Heed and the destruction of the friendship between Christine and Heed. She didn’t let him ruin their lives further by leaving them destitute after his death. However, no-one knew of her intercession (and it was a very strong intercession) for them. And who knows if it was really for the best?
The novel is about the different types of love experienced by the different women, or children. All of the women, Vera Gibbon, Julia, Celestial, May, Heed, Christine and Junior and L all had different relationships with Bill and with each other. The worst result of all these loves was that Heed was too young and that her love to Christine was blighted – although they did reconcile when Heed was dying. This love is also defined by the history of each woman. For instance, Junior never had a father and therefore sees a kind of warped father figure in the picture of Bill (whom she calls her “Good Man”). She also has a need to manipulate all the people around her, including her lover, Romen. He, however, strays true to himself, or finds a truer version of himself, with the help of his grandfather, Sandler Gibbon. Sandler had a friendly relationship with Bill. Heed didn’t know what she was getting into and made the best of her situation. Christine tried to flee but couldn’t stay away. May lived in fear of losing her material goods. L (who is called “Love”, like the title of the novel) influences the lives of the others through her actions and also seems to see her actions as being loving.
In the background of all these characters’ lives, the novel also delineates the historical periods from the early 20th century to the 1990, especially black musical culture in the first half of the century and the Civil Rights movement. Morrison weaves an utterly fascinating tale in this novel that leaves the reader with much food for thought. The novel must be read very attentively as its structure is so complex and non-linear. I very much enjoyed it, though I found Heed’s storyline especially disturbing (it kind of reminded me of Pecola in The Bluest Eye, except that Heed’s story was less tragic). As always, it’s hard to write a review that does justice Morrison’s work. I can only say: read it!
My ranking of Morrison’s novels that I’ve read so far (Love seems far down the list, but I loved it anyway). The novels are hard to rank because I enjoy all of them so much:
- Song of Solomon
- The Bluest Eye
- Tar Baby