Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What I Read: Beloved

I finished reading Beloved yesterday. It was good, but difficult. Some books are good, but easy—The Crying of Lot 49; some books are just easy—The Spy Who Came in From The Cold; and some are good but difficult. Beloved was the most difficult book I've read yet on the list, maybe even more than The Gravedigger's Daughter. Part of it is due to the subject matter, but part of it is also due to Morrison's incredibly complex writing. Subclauses and parentheticals and asides are all over the place:

The grandmother, Baby Suggs, was dead, and the sons, Howard and Buglar, had run away by the time they were thirteen years old—as soon as merely looking in a mirror shattered it (that was the signal for Buglar); as soon as two tiny hand prints appeared in the cake (that was it for Howard). Neither boy waited to see more; another kettleful of chickpeas smoking in a heap on the floor; soda crackers crumbled and strewn in a line next to the doorsill.

Even the educated colored: the long-school people, the doctors, the teahers, the paper-writers and businessmen had a hard row to hoe. In addition to having to use their heads to get ahead, they had the weight of the whole race sitting there. You needed two heads for that. Whitepeople believed that whatever the manners, under every dark skin was a jungle. Swift unnavigable waters, swinging screaming baboons, sleeping snakes, red gums ready for their sweet white blood. In a way, he thought, they were right. The more coloredpeople spent their strength trying to convince them how gentle they were, how clever and loving, how human, the more they used themselves up to persuade the whites of something Negroes believed could not be questioned, the deeper and more tangled the jungle grew inside. But it wasn't the jungle blacks brought with them to this place from the other (livable) place. It was the jungle whitefolks planted in them. And it grew. It spread. In, through and after life, it spread, until it invaded the whites who made it. Touched them, every one. Changed and altered them. Made them bloody, silly, worse than even they wanted to be, so scared were they of the jungle they had made. The screaming baboon lived under their own white skin; the red gums were their own.

The time shifts, too, and unclearly. Not that it's a criticism, but you have to learn how to read it (or rather, to understand how it's written). The events of the story, such as it is, are pretty straightforward. It's just that the novel is not the retelling of the events, but painting the picture around it. It reads like an epic prose poem more than a novel.

So that's why it took me like a month to read this book. That said, it's a really good book and it's worth reading. It's rewarding. It also needs a better cover:

It has other (better) covers, of course, but this was the one available in my library. It looks like it would be better on a cheesy 80s erotic thriller novel than an important piece of Black literature.

No comments:

Post a Comment