Book Review: Toni Morrison's winner of the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Beloved
I can see why Morrison’s novels inspire, what is sometimes called in academia, a “close-reading.” There are layers and layers here in her 1988 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Beloved; layers laced with question after question, ripe for some intransigent essay questions. For example, who am I supposed to sympathize most with? Who is the heroine? Hero? 95% of the way through the novel I suddenly found myself being pulled to look at events in a different way, which I found fascinating, intriguing even. Intrigue can lend itself to “close-reading,” to an obsession with questions like, “What is Morrison trying to tell us? Who is Morrison really writing this book about? What do you think, class?”
It is true that I find some of Morrison’s vagueness and disjointed exposition frustrating (especially at the beginning), but I also find that it allows for interpretations to be formed, picked apart, formed again, and that there’s something profound about this process. And this sort of thing happens not only within the text. Put Beloved within its actual historical context, the fact that the seed for the story originated with something that happened within Morrison’s own family history, and every scene has the potential to take on a different timbre.
Lastly, it’s a ghost story! Of sorts. It does read like a horror novel at some points, which I actually found a little weird and a bit off-putting, and then that near overly maudlin ending really put my experience of this novel on edge, but I have to say Morrison does seem to near perfectly pull the narrative out of its dangerous dive. And further good news, Beloved is part of a trilogy! A trilogy connected by themes rather than concrete characters allowing for point-counterpoint comparisons as well as nebulous connections, mirroring of events, and various other literary magic. Talk about an opportunity for close-reading!
Craig B is a thirty-something lover of books, movies, and rock and roll whose grandmother still worries that he might not be eating enough. (Love you, Grandma!) He lives with his charming wife in the small town of Berne, IN (in sight of the clock tower) where he busies himself keeping the Roses of Sharon in check and training his chinchilla in the ancient arts of the Ninja. Craig’s current favorite book is Buddenbrooks
by Thomas Mann.