Review: God Help the Child by Toni Morrison

The main arch of Toni Morrison’s new novel, “God Help the Child,” is a steady one, but pulsing closely under its surface are a series of overlapping emotional and historical arches that beautifully complicate both the main narrative and the main character, making this a work that feels as familiar as an old friend and as breathtaking and new as the morning dawn. It is the work of an American master.

The main plot is a story as old as time: a love story. Bride, a stunningly beautiful, successful woman is floored when her lover, Booker, suddenly walks out. What follows is Bride’s quest to find Booker and ask him what he meant by his mysterious final words.

But in order to pursue what she hopes will be her future Bride must first confront her turbulent past, including addressing Lula Ann Bridewell, her girlhood self who was denied affection by her much lighter-skinned mother.

“Determined to discover what she was made of — cotton or steel — there could be no retreat, no turning back.”

Spare, clean and sharp, Morrison’s novel is comprised of a series of short chapters told from alternating points of view, including Bride, her mother, a close friend, and a gut-punching 25 pages from Booker’s perspective. The narrators are each unreliable in their own ways, and also illuminate the fact that the way we think of ourselves is not always the ways others perceive us.

These narrative shifts build slowly to create the complexity of Bride and to demonstrate — with heartbreaking accuracy — the painful juxtapositions present in parenthood.

Masterpieces rarely follow conventions and Morrison’s new work is no exception. But she breaks the rules like only the greats can: with such grace and purpose we forget we’re reading and instead feel ­— and know ­— we’ve having an experience.