Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage. Toni Morrison’s “Sweetness” was originally published in the February 9, 2015 issue of The New Yorker.
Disappointingly, The New Yorker has chosen, this week, to publish an excerpt from Toni Morrison’s forthcoming novel God Help the Child. I’m almost always against publishing excerpts from novels as short fiction, and this week’s offering is no exception: what we have here is an underdeveloped something or other that, in my case, has turned me off of the eventual novel.
I did have hope after the interesting opening, even if the prose itself felt like the marketing copy from the back of a YA novel (for the record, I do like YA books, but I don’t usually like their marketing copy):
It’s not my fault. So you can’t blame me. I didn’t do it and have no idea how it happened. It didn’t take more than an hour after they pulled her out from between my legs for me to realize something was wrong. Really wrong. She was so black she scared me.
What follows is a short — mercifully short — rundown of a mother’s distress that her daughter came out with black skin when she herself was “light-skinned, with good hair, what we call high yellow, and so is Lula Ann’s father. Ain’t nobody in my family anywhere near that color.”
Her distress is a horrible result of systemic racism, an immensely important topic that Morrison has handled well in the past. Here, though, the segment we read is a jumble that crosses several years.
Commenters last week didn’t like Elizabeth Harrower’s “Alice” because they didn’t think Harrower did enough showing but rather told. I disagreed, and I’d hold this piece up as my example of when a story is mostly interested in rifling through a bunch of events with little description and nuance.
Am I just in a bad mood? I admit I’ve never really gotten on with Morrison’s style; though this feels nothing like her work, usually rich — to my taste, overly so — in imagery and metaphor, I have to wonder if I walked into this one expecting little and giving it little attention once it met my low expectations.
I look forward to your thoughts.