Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Review of Beloved

I finished reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and between you and me, I didn’t like it all that much.

It starts out great, with fragmented descriptions mixing past and present, and emphasis on the physical struggle to survive, stuff I love to read about. The ghost was well done at first, mysterious to me but a part of routine life for Sethe and Denver, who must cope with it daily. Paul D comes to visit them and he sees a red light beaming down over the doorway and immediately knows to ask who is haunting the place.

Me, I’ve never seen a ghost and I don’t think I ever will because I’m too literal. I’m still somewhat the physics major I once was. So I really appreciate when somebody sees something and knows it’s a ghost. It’s like being able to spot natural vs. artificial dye on Turkish carpets at 100 feet.

But then the ghost became real, a real woman living with Sethe and Denver and Paul D. When it comes to really dealing with ghosts, let’s just say, Toni Morrison is no Stephen King. She should look into him a little, help her out with her ghost writing. As soon as this ghost appeared, the writing in the novel started trying to directly describe emotions, and if you ask me, this leads to trouble in writing. Gone was the physicality, the fragmented memories and descriptions, the superstitions, the horror. Now, it was all this abstract talk about one person becoming another person’s face and stuff like that. It seems to be a major turning point when Sethe goes into the woods to pray, and some ghost tries to strangle her, and she can’t tell at first who it is, and I personally didn’t care anyway. I wanted to hear about more hardship, more pain and misery and unfairness and stuff that can’t get any worse and still does, like the Middle East. Instead, it had all these lines like “tell me your earrings.” And, “If I had the teeth of the man who died on my face I would bite the circle around her neck.” With these body parts all mixed around like this, it's like trying to read a Picasso.

You might say that, as a middle class white guy, I stand no chance of ever understanding the mindset of the characters in Beloved. But as a middle class white guy, I easily recognize the similarity between the abstract portions of Beloved and these lyrics:

If I listen close I can hear them singers
Voices in your body coming through on the radio
The Union of the Snake is on the climb . . .

No comments: