Love and friendship are the focus of Toni Morrison’s 2003 novel, Love. With less attention paid to race relations and more on the relationship between men and women, and the impact that can have on the relationships between women, Morrison manages to explore one of her favorite subjects in great depth without completely abandoning the themes and style that helped to make her famous.
Heed and Christine were best friends as young children but by the time they reached their old age, they have been turned to bitter enemies. Fighting one another for the house they share and the inheritance each claims as her own, they have been reduced to simply trying to outlive the other. Until Junior Viviane takes a position with the two women that finally pushes them into their final altercation and dredges up memories that neither have spoken about in over fifty years.
As with most Toni Morrison novels, the reader must be willing to work to make his or her own sense of who is who, how characters are related, what is real, and what is imagined. This may require multiple readings in order to form a more complete understanding but there is simply so much Morrison includes that each new reading feels different. I know I will be rereading Love at some point simply to be able to see the things I missed this first time. And to enjoy Morrison’s simple but beautifully illuminating prose.
I have fallen out of the habit of underlining passages in books (it always came in handy when I knew I’d be writing a paper at some point). However, there were lines from Love that I just couldn’t help but pull out a pen to mark, though they will stick in my mind without my calling further attention to them. Toni Morrison’s writing screams for more to be written about it and with passages like “Hate does that. Burns of everything but itself, so whatever your grievance is, your face looks just like your enemy’s” or “but the good fortune of her current job did not prevent her from preferring the long-ago one that paid less in every way but satisfaction” I almost miss having the excuse of an up-coming paper in which to use them.
What surprised me most about Love was that Morrison was able to include all her favorite topics even as she focused much more closely on one than the others. The racial tensions are there in the police threat that creeps up from time to time as well as the many references to incidents in the Civil Rights movement and allusions to other more radical movements, as well as the specific events that inspired both.
The intra-racial relations and social tension sit quietly at the forefront of the novel in the very roots of the Coseys’ hotel. It’s the way that Morrison depicts these relationships that always fascinates me. The interactions between individuals of a community and the group as a jump from the pages of some of her other novels like Beloved, The Bluest Eye, and Paradise. They are included in Love as well but with such subtlety that it doesn’t distract from the more focused examination of the lines where family and friendship over lap and the seemingly small events from which hatred is planted and nurtured.