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God Help the Child
By Toni Morrison
Albert A. Knopf, Inc.
Reviewed by Chris Schahfer
I was thoroughly satisfied with the first three quarters of God Help the Child. Not to say it was magnificent like Paradise or Song of Solomon, but I thought of it as another feather in Morrison's already-enviable cap. Good prose, effective rotating narrators, solid characters, and on top of that a good story. Main character Bride, spurned by her mother for her dark skin, finds herself reverting from grown woman to child after being attacked by a woman she put in jail for molesting children. So another one of those great grotesque horror stories with sociopolitical overtones Morrison so specializes in, great mix of the visceral and the cerebral; what's not to like?
Then came part four, and Morrison provided a concrete answer to my rhetorical question. The ending. I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but let's say that the conflict resolves too quickly and too easily. With an extra fifty pages or a good toning-down, the ending could've been earned. As it stands now, it comes too swift and cleans up too much. Not even Morrison's efforts to complicate it fully come off, because it's just too bright and shiny to follow from what we've seen. Which isn't to say your ending has to be death and darkness and despair or anything of the sort. But Morrison has ended so many of her books so beautifully. Take the sheer excitement of Song of Solomon's conclusion, the lingering fade of A Mercy, the big question mark of the Bluest Eye. These are all great conclusions. Sad to say it, but I can't rank God Help the Child's among them.
That's not to say, of course, that God Help the Child is to be dismissed because of a dissatisfying ending. Most of it is quite good. Because of its rotating narrators and protagonist, a black girl made to feel disgraced by her race, comparisons to the Bluest Eye are inevitable. Still, the cycle-of-abuse undertones and use of a contemporary setting - a first for Morrison - make it a work with its own identity. It's just that she was quite close to another great novel, but ended it so poorly that it can only hope to be a very good one. Shame, really.
Out of 10: 8.2