Sorry I have not published a post in a while, but school is back in session and a few major developments in my professional life have kept me pretty busy but for the good. Yet, no matter how busy I am, I always try to still make time to curl up even for just five minutes at a time with a good book. I was heartbroken when I heard the news of Toni Morrison’s passing . I loved her novels because they always whisked me away to another era in U.S. history and helped me get as close as I can bear to aspects of the Black American experience. The other day I was listening to an old NPR Fresh Air interview with Morrison where she read a passage from her last novel God Help the Child and the few lines she read were so intriguing that I immediately made a detour to the closest bookstore to pick up a copy. The novel begins with Sweetness explaining the shocker, horror, and shame she felt when her daughter Lula Ann was born. Both Sweetness and her husband Louis are exceptionally light skinned and most likely members of the Blue Vein Society. In the maternity ward, she momentarily contemplates smothering the baby rather that have her dark skin body and lips press against her breast to nurse. In the end, she decides to spare her life but not her feelings. She refrains from as much physical contact as she can with her daughter through the most pivotal years in a child’s development. She provides her with the financial necessities in life but fails to provide her any outward displays of affection and emotional intimacy. Her husband, still convinced that she cheated, leaves her in protest to having to raise a dark- skinned child.
Nevertheless, Lula Ann grows up to be gorgeous and successful. Her onyx skin becomes an “exotic” feature that helps her win lovers from all nationalities and opens doors for her in the cosmetic industry. It appears that she has triumphed in the end over the taunts about her skin hue from her peers and her mother’s emotional neglect. She has proven to everyone and herself that she can certainly find the physical intimacy her mother deprived her of from almost anyone she chooses. Yet, as you continue reading, you later realize that she is still the same little insecure , skinny, dark-skinned, knobbly kneed, girl of her past and, Lula Ann begins to panic when a love loss brings this insecurity to the emotional and physical forefront.
Although Lula Ann’s story is the focus of the book, all of the characters she encounters or pursues has their own story and each one is mired in a childhood pain or tragedy that has attached to them like a cancer and metastasized over the years into adulthood. I have to warn you that these tragedies are dark and unsettling but they were for me a constant reminder of the inability for any of us to ever free ourselves of our positive or negative childhood experiences. I was a little disappointed by the fact that with the exception of Sweetness’ story, the setting for the majority of God Help the Child takes place in modern day. Sweetness’ story was very compelling and left me with an insatiable desire to learn more about her, but maybe that was the point Morrison was trying to make. As a society we shine the light and focus on the perpetrators of crimes against children. We are obsessed with wanting to know why anyone could hurt or neglect children. Rarely do the children who are victimized get the opportunity to share their story and heal. We don’t care to know how they will cope into adulthood and the type of person they will become. Reading this novel left me like many of the characters also asking myself, ” Are my childhood experiences carrying me through life or am I carrying them?” If my childhood experiences are carrying me, “Are they tired, weary, and ready to rest?” Rest in peace Queen Morrison. Thank you for blessing us with your courage to tell the stories that no one else bothered to tell.