In news that amounts to at least an 8 on the literary Richter scale, Knopf has announced that it will publish Toni Morrison’s 11th novel in April 2015. At that point, book world luminaries will hurriedly convene to invent new prizes, because the 83-year-old author has already won all the old ones: a Pulitzer for Beloved, which also received the American Book Award; a Nobel; a Presidential Medal of Freedom; and countless others. The novel-in-waiting is called God Help the Child, a title that brings to mind a woozy, swinging Billie Holiday tune (“God Bless the Child”) and, perhaps more coincidentally, Stuart Murdoch’s 2014 film God Help the Girl. (The former is famous for the lyrics, “Them that’s got shall get/ Them that’s not shall lose/ So the Bible said and it still is news.” The latter follows a mentally unstable teenager who flees hospitalization to start a rock band.)
What we know: God Help the Child represents a departure from Morrison’s clipped, one-word titling operation. Think Sula, Jazz, Paradise, Love, and Home. With a single optative sentence, the author has raised her average words-per-title count from 1.4 to 1.63. Here’s more information about the plot, courtesy of a press release:
Spare and unsparing, God Help the Child is a searing tale about the way childhood trauma shapes and misshapes the life of the adult. At the center: a woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty, her boldness and confidence, her success in life; but which caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love until she told a lie that ruined the life of an innocent woman, a lie whose reverberations refuse to diminish … Booker, the man Bride loves and loses, whose core of anger was born in the wake of the childhood murder of his beloved brother … Rain, the mysterious white child, who finds in Bride the only person she can talk to about the abuse she's suffered at the hands of her prostitute mother … and Sweetness, Bride’s mother, who takes a lifetime to understand that "what you do to children matters. And they might never forget."
Evident even in this blurb is a familiar Morrisonian concern for myths and archetypes—for freighted names like “Milkman Dead,” “Circe,” and “Guitar”—and a close, careful attention to the echoes of the past. (Beloved circles a long-ago murder. The Bluest Eye unfolds in flashback.) “It’s not my fault,” the new novel begins, according to Knopf. “So you can’t blame me. I didn’t do it and have no idea how it happened.”
Are you hooked yet?