“Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.”
~ Toni Morrison, Beloved
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Published by Vintage International, 1987
Genre: Historical fiction
Re-readability: I’ll probably reread this one someday to see if I can wrap my head around it a bit better
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Pete
Toni Morrison has been a new discovery for me this year, and she’s quickly become one of my favorite authors. Song of Solomon quickly became one of my favorite books of all time, so I was excited for her best-known work, Beloved.
It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting, but nothing Morrison writes ever is.
Beloved follows a former slave named Sethe who lives in a small Ohio town with her one living daughter, Denver. Sethe murdered her other daughter, Beloved, when she was just an infant, and she would have murdered Denver too if she hadn’t been stopped. She committed this terrible act to protect Beloved from slavery, and since then the ghost of Beloved has terrorized Sethe’s home, known as 124.
The ghost can (and does) throttle people and break objects and is an endless source of frustration for Sethe, Denver, and those who visit 124. When Paul D, Sethe’s lover and a former slave, tells the ghost to leave 124, it does. And days later a strange young woman appears from nowhere, calling herself Beloved. She joins the family in 124 and slowly establishes herself as the center of Sethe’s care and attention.
I found this one hard to follow. Morrison’s prose, as always, was unusual and evocative. You can take any sentence from this book and examine it from a couple of different angles. She just doesn’t do conventional, and it makes her books refreshing to read.
However, I was unable to get a sense of the book’s movement and development. This is primarily a book of relationships, with Beloved at the center of its social web. But the changes are slow, and this book isn’t driven by major events but by revelations.
Morrison’s writing kept me engaged, but her plot did not. Sethe, Denver, and Beloved are complicated characters whose pasts define them, but this deep relationship study did not keep me hooked.
Whenever I find myself disagreeing with the majority on a classic, I feel like I’m missing something. Of course I don’t think Beloved is by any means a bad book, but it’s not one I was excited to read each time I picked it up. I’ll probably return to it someday, but first, I have some more Morrison books to read.