Much has been written about Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison and Beloved, Morrison’s novel of slavery, family, and community. Along with many others, I think and feel Beloved is among the best novels ever written; the book is hard for me to write about because I have such strong feelings about it. Moreover, I’ve realized that the difficulty is related to why the work is #2 on my most current top 100 novels list.
As I’ve described briefly elsewhere in this blog, the criteria for my top 100 novels include subject matter, emotional impact, intellectual impact, and the ability to work on many levels at the same time. Beloved has it all. It moves me emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually. I am alternately and sometimes simultaneously horrified by the brutality it describes, impressed by its ability to evoke deep senses of human commonality, and stunned by its structural power. It’s a prose poetic masterpiece of rhythm, structure, theme, and symbol. It’s a ghost story cut by enigmatic motivations and profound mysteries of life, love, and death. It’s a powerful indictment of our nation’s history of slavery, of the dehumanizing effects of that institution and the on-going impact of racism and injustice. Structurally, the novel mirrors a consciousness, cycling forward and back, remembering and re-remembering in an associative, flowing logic.
All this in a mere 275 pages—the multifaceted punch and epic sweep catapult Beloved to almost the top of my list (superceded only by Garcia Marquez’s even more epic tale). It is a glorious novel, painful to read, and which, in even my third or fourth reading, continues to yield new gems of connection and understanding.
[Caveat for the first-time reader: get through the first 50 pages, just going along for the ride. You’ll probably be confused. Try to enjoy the images and prose. It gets easier and the work is more than worth your while.]