This novel does not aspire to the grand sweep of history in Ms. Morrison’s dazzling 1987 masterpiece, Beloved, but like Home (2012), it attests to her ability to write intensely felt chamber pieces that inhabit a twilight world between fable and realism, and to convey the desperate yearnings of her characters for safety and love and belonging ... Because so many lives are mapped in this slender book and because so many of these characters speak to us directly in the first person, God Help the Child jumps around a lot in time and space; it is up to us to connect — or not connect — many of the dots. The narrative also has touches of surrealism that may initially seem jarring and bizarre, but that gradually lend Bride’s story a fairy-tale-like undertow ... As the book flies toward its conclusion, the speed bumps in its early pages quickly recede in the rearview mirror. Writing with gathering speed and assurance as the book progresses, Ms. Morrison works her narrative magic, turning the Ballad of Bride and Booker into a tale that is as forceful as it is affecting, as fierce as it is resonant.
God Help the Child is the kind of novel where you can feel the magnificence just beyond your reach. The writing and storytelling are utterly compelling, but so much is frustratingly flawed. The story carries the shape of a far grander book, where the characters are more fully explored and there is far more at stake. As the novel stands, the only characters we know with any kind of depth or significance are Bride, Sweetness and, to a lesser extent, Booker. There are several others of whom we learn little when the narrative clearly demands much more ... Yet still, there is that magnificence, burning beneath the surface of every word. The language, shifts in point of view and the audacity of the novel’s premise are overwhelming. Morrison remains an incredibly powerful writer who commands attention no matter the story she is telling. In God Help the Child we have a coming-of-age story for an adult woman in arrested development.
Because her latest work offers curious reflections of where she began in The Bluest Eye, it’s tempting to read God Help the Child as a capstone of her jeweled career. Once again, we have a young woman whose life is overdetermined by the pigment of her skin in a culture torn with sexual violence. But unfortunately, God Help the Child carries only a faint echo of that earlier novel’s power ... [Morrisson] leaves these people no interior life, a problem that grows more pronounced as the novel rolls along from trauma to trauma, throwing off wisdom like Mardi Gras bling. While attempting to create a kind of fable about the lingering effects of maternal neglect and racial self-hatred, Morrison ends up instead with characters who keep phasing between skimpy realism and overwrought fantasy.
Toni Morrison has always written for the ear, with a loving attention to the textures and sounds of words. And the natural landscapes in her books have a way of erupting into lively play, giving richness and depth to her themes ... In God Help the Child, however, we get clipped first-person confessionals and unusually vague landscapes. The settings feel flat, the tone cynical. There are swirls of brutal personal histories, hurried vignettes and blatantly untrustworthy monologues ... every now and then, God Help the Child steps away from moralizing and yields to the slow, tender, dangerous art of storytelling. Morrison brings back her paintbrush and indulges the reader with color and dread as she vividly evokes Booker’s tight-knit family and his idolized older brother ... But too often we get a curt fable instead, one more interested in outrage than possibilities for empathy.
The music of Morrison's writing has been turned down so low, one is tempted to put their ear against the novel's pages. After Bride grows up into a gorgeous and successful cosmetics executive, living in California, the book reads like a modern-day fable about a woman who thinks she has survived her past simply because of the gift of time's passage and her life's glamorous new trappings. The contemporary setting of God Help The Child seems to cut off opportunities for the author's lauded lyricism ... By itself, God Help The Child is simply a good book. In the company of its sister novels though, it transcends the limits of its own pages and becomes another act in a painfully exquisite drama that spans centuries.
God Help the Child is stylistically consistent with Ms. Morrison’s whole body of work. The narrative is stereoscopic, jumping from the points of view of major and minor characters. There is also a touch of hallucinatory magic realism, as Bride’s transformation into a child takes a literal form—for a time during her breakdown her breasts and pubic hair seem to vanish, as though maturation is running in reverse. The noticeable difference, however, is a weakening in the power of Ms. Morrison’s prose ... the sense of poetic enlargement of her major novels is absent from God Help the Child.
God Help the Child twins Bride’s devolution with Booker’s life-stunting rage. Booker’s narrative is the novel’s most accomplished section. Few writers, regardless of gender, can address the vagaries of black masculinity as sensitively, insightfully, and elegantly as Morrison ... witnessing the lovers separate, fight, and reconnect lacks danger or dark humor; it seems too easy and unearned. This might explain some of problems coded into Morrison’s late style: With so many speedy narrative turns, the author risks missing some requisite details ... If not at maximum strength, her powers are proudly on display in God Help the Child.
By the end of this brief and beautiful book, we don't know precisely whether the change was real or imagined; nor does it matter, because of course the accident of skin color and the penalties that can come with it aren't 'real,' either. Morrison also has a secondary theme, the sexual abuse of children, though it's sketchier and less successful than her handling of race ... In all, though, God Save the Child is superb, its story gliding along the tracks of Morrison's utterly assured prose.
There is a slightly desultory effect to God Help the Child, with multiple stories being told ... Many novels in the Morrison canon have employed magical realism, and there are elements of this in God Help the Child ... But despite such gestures, this is a novel rooted in the real world of violence, prejudice, and abuse. Indeed, the true magical moments in the novel arise when Morrison hits her stride...
[God Help the Child] is another unflinching, gorgeously written story about the wounds of the black community: lost brothers and smothering mothers; colorism and child abuse; disavowed guilt and withheld love ... Morrison usually only grants us glimpses of the person inside this thrilling blackness, but in God Help the Child, we have frequent access to Bride’s consciousness. It is...disappointingly shallow. Morrison satirizes our own desires by making her heroine a puerile girl obsessed with her appearance, oblivious to other people and callow even in her professions of feeling ... Even with her brilliant use of counterpoint in God Help the Child, Morrison’s contemporary ditty strikes some false notes, mostly anachronisms in slang and technology.
It’s as hard as ever to pick nits in Morrison’s writing. Every page contains at least one passage of breathtaking prose, a lyrical flow accentuated by stark imagery and laden with poetic contrasts ... My only complaint with God Help the Child? I wish there were more of it. Like her previous novel, Home in 2013, God Help the Child checks in under 200 pages. If it were anyone else we’d just call it a novella, but the word seems to belittle Morrison’s stature and gift. The writing is crisp, the narrative economical, and a new Morrison book is always cause for celebration. But some of the late-breaking plot developments feel orphaned by the novel’s brevity and eagerness to bring Bride’s denouement.
God Help the Child is a slim novel; it can be read, and wants to be read, in a breath. The prose is lean, uncluttered. Morrison's novelistic architectures have always been exceptionally well-designed; she crafts the vessels, carefully and uniquely to each story, before pouring in the water, and God Help the Child is no exception. By arranging Sweetness, Bride, Brooklyn (Bride's best friend), Booker and Sofia in antiphonal choruses, she orchestrates dialogues between truths and fictions in a manner that mirrors the book's meanings.
Much of the writing is fine -- vivid and concise -- but the structure of the book is strange, starting with chapter-length first-person narrators, then shifting into the forest interlude, during which Bride thinks, 'Without distraction or physical activity, the mind shuffled pointless, scattered recollections around and around.' The novel wobbles in its third part, a long expository telling of Booker's backstory ... The novel recovers when it returns to Sweetness, now parked in a New York old folks home, relying on checks from the daughter she long avoided touching. Morrison has a Shakespearean sense of tragedy, and that gift imbues God Help the Child. The ending is exquisite.
Ms. Morrison crafts a not-particularly-likable, but truly unforgettable character in Bride ... Ms. Morrison’s prose is leaner here than in previous novels, but still sharp and resonant with truths about love, pain, grief and family ... God Help the Child, like Ms. Morrison’s previous novels, is a book to be read twice at a minimum — the first time for the story, and the second time to savor the language, the gems of phrasing and the uncomfortable revelations about the human capacity both to love and destroy.
Morrison spikes elements of realism and hyperrealism with magic and mayhem, while sustaining a sexily poetic and intoxicating narrative atmosphere ... once again, Morrison brings the storytelling moxie and mojo that make her, arguably, our greatest living novelist.
God Help the Child is a curiously static work. The central character, a young woman named Bride, is little more than a cipher, and her relationship with Booker, who loves her then leaves her before loving her again, unfolds with little urgency or fire ... God Help the Child rarely stirs into articulated life. Instead, it reads like a set of talking points, archetypes and illustrations, with little of the messy complexities of experience.
Morrison deliberately offers only the lovely bones of the story, where some might wish for a fairy-tale landscape more extravagantly decorated with raiment, jewels, and woodland creatures. This is not to suggest that the book is monotonous ... God Help the Child is clearly and forcefully the effort of a writer impatient to cast off every superfluity to expose the rage and sadness at its heart.
[THe novel's] tragedies are so grossly exaggerated that you need a scorecard to try and make sense of where this is going. It's a pity, too. Because if Morrison had fleshed out the characters or the messy situations they find themselves in, we'd get precious insight into why people get trapped in a downward spiraling existence and how that misshapes their lives ... Despite my disappointment at not getting the vintage Morrison that I'd hoped for in God Help the Child, there are still bright moments in it that bear the unmistakable touch of Morrison's magical wordcraft. She paints an image with a sparseness of words as few others can do.
At 84, [Morrison] challenges herself, eschewing the period setting, singing prose and folkloric echoes of earlier works. Instead, the author sets the novel in the present, in narcissistic California, relying on flat, declarative narrative rather than lingering over physical detail and character ... pitch-perfect moments remind us how potent a writer Morrison is and how story itself taps into something primal that speaks to the children in all of us. Sadly, these scenes come too late and end too quickly, with the author rushing toward a resolution that offers a glimmering of hope but feels neither organic nor earned.
In many ways Morrison’s most fitful book God Help the Child brings together several voices that swirl around Bride and her Job-lite endurance of personal disaster ... God Help the Child is Morrison’s strangest and most alienating novel. But so what? Contemporary American life, having thoroughly imbibed its own mediatization, is more like a Lifetime movie than we’d care to admit — and yet more racist and brutal ... Written as a series of detonations, Morrison’s new novel has no intention of grandmothering you into a comfortable world. Underwritten by the stuff of contemporary American life: in the end, even its title explodes.
...it’s a pleasure to sit down with [Morrison's] latest, God Help the Child, which is both timely and timeless. God Help the Child is no less than a short, tough allegory about the condition of being black in this country today. The novel has a poetic resonance with her first, The Bluest Eye.