Published by Vintage on 1987
I’m not quite sure how to talk about this book. It’s been sitting on my shelf for over a year, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought, “yeah, I’ll read that next,” only to guiltily pull something else from my shelf when the time came. It’s no secret that I’ve felt intimidated by the work of this Nobel laureate. Everyone has told me that yes, Morrison’s books are complex and layered, but even if you don’t catch 100% of the references, they’re amazing stories and not difficult to read.
I finally got up the nerve to read Beloved for Banned Books Week. (Yes, that was almost a month ago, but I’m having as much trouble figuring out what to say about this book as I had trying to pick it up.) I really struggled with it at first. For the first 50 pages or so, I felt confused and disoriented. I wondered whether it would get “better,” easier, and it did. It took a while, but I finally settled into a world that Morrison evokes really powerfully. And I loved it.
I have no idea, though, where to start my discussion of Beloved. Similar to the way Morrison drops you right into the middle of things at the beginning of the novel, I can’t see a clear starting place to begin this “review.” I suppose I’ll try giving the bare bones?
Sethe is an escaped slave living in Ohio with her daughter, Denver. Although the house she lives in was once a bustling home with frequent visitors, it is now haunted by the ghost of her baby who died before even being named. The only thing Sethe could afford to have inscribed on her tombstone is the word “Beloved.”
Okay, that was easy enough, but how do I talk about the beautiful girl named Beloved who turns up one day and is accepted into their home; the arrival of Paul D, a fellow former slave from the plantation Sethe lived on; the way Sethe and those around her are haunted by the infanticide she committed against her tiny unnamed baby? Do I even talk about the fact that Sethe killed her own baby to save her from the men rounding up runaway slaves, that she would rather see her child dead than a slave? How do I talk about the way she is plagued by memories of her life as a slave, and the horrible experiences Paul D suffered in the South? Is it enough to just ask these questions?
Weeks have passed since I finished this book, and I still can’t figure out how to lay out the “plot.” I think it’s important to talk about Beloved, though, despite my inability to form coherent thoughts about it. I can speak more about the way it made me feel and think about than what actually happens in the book. First of all, this is an incredibly powerful, dark, emotionally exhausting novel. It’s fragmented and brutal, a gothic ghost story.
Beloved is about loss, desperation, love, and the ghosts that haunt and enslave us. It’s about motherhood and making choices that are absolutely unthinkable. It’s about trying to accept the actions of others (or yourself) in truly impossible situations.
I didn’t know what to expect going into this novel, but I was blown away by it. My feelings about Beloved are hard to articulate, but I was so impressed by the fierce, almost elemental power of Morrison’s writing. I loved the sheer depth of her storytelling and the poetry of her words. I’m glad I finally read this book, and I’m looking forward to reading the other Morrison book on my shelf, Sula. It probably won’t be soon, but I like knowing it’ll be there when I’m ready for it.
This was my fourth book read for The Classics Club.