May, Christine, Heed, Junior and L – five women bound together by their obsession with one man. Bill Cosey was the owner of the famous Cosey’s Hotel and Resort. At its prime a booming business and pride of the black community. Now, decades after the wealthy patriarch’s death, all that is left is a crumbling building behind closed doors and a family held together by greed and distrust, and a long, secret history of pain. Even in death, Bill Cosey dominates the minds and hearts of the women he left behind, and even of one he has never met. They yearn for appreciation from the father, grandfather, husband, lover, friend, long to be the one to hold a special place in his life. And yet, the only woman who seems to have ever gained his honest devotion is the mysterious Celestial.
It is Cosey’s former cook and trusted friend who has known him the longest and has the most nuanced view of him. She provides a choral-esque commentary and offer an insight into her employer’s troubled past. His daughter May, granddaughter Christine and second wife Heed all share Cosey’s decaying mansion, locked away in their rooms and grudges. All three are ageing, May especially frail, and above all angry. Little love is lost between them, but things start to change as Junior enters their home. Heed has hired her, needing an accomplice in her plans to erase Christine from her husband’s will. But the young women, fresh out of reform school, has plans and secrets of her own. She develops an intense obsession with Cosey, whose presence still looms large in this house, and starts a passionate affair with the sixteen year old Roman, who works in the garden.
Fragments of memories are pieced together to make sense of Bill Cosey’s last will, drunkenly scribbled on a menu and subject to different interpretations. But just as we think we know where the story is headed, new facts emerge and turn all our assumptions upside down. Slowly, in true Morrison style, we peel back the layers of this story of grief, love and heart-break and learn, that the true conflict at the heart of Love is not Cosey’s legacy at all, but the deep love Heed and Christine once shared: they were the best of childhood friends until their roles reversed and broke their bond.
“Finally they stopped, moved into acid silence, and invented other ways to underscore bitterness….Like friendship, hatred needed more than physical intimacy; it wanted creativity and hard work to sustain itself.”
There are few authors whose books you open and you just now its them from the first sentence. Toni Morrison’s voice is so strong, her style so unique, and her characters so definitely hers that even if you tried to go into a book blindly, you couldn’t read a (second) Morrison novel without knowing it. Love, perhaps one of her lesser known works, is no exception. Lesser known does not indicate lesser quality, though. If anything, my reading experience was improved by entering this tale of love and deceit fully unprepared. What Morrison offers here is a raw, unflinching exploration of the darker sides of love. Obsession and possessiveness eclipse all else. Gone are care, joy and tenderness, all these women are left with is pain and bitterness. Morrison’s trademark rich cast of complicated female characters show us how stifled love can be in a world were women are subordinate to men. The only way in which they can hope to gain a tiny piece of his glory, the only way to achieve some security, is to fully devote themselves to a man and to get him to return some of that devotion.
Toni Morrison’s prose is powerful and evocative, rich and often lyrical. It is pure joy working through her sentences that are so subtly, so carefully constructed, you cannot afford to lose focus because you will risk missing some crucial detail. That might not always make her work the easiest to read, but it makes it incredibly rewarding. Her plotting is just as consciously crafted as her sentences are. Subplots emerge and you have to pay attention to keep hold of the various threads she weaves together to create a striking picture. Amidst the noise of voices and in the anachronistic storytelling, you might lose sight of what is right in front of you from time to time. But that is never an obstacle. Just let yourself be guided by Morrison’s voice and you will find that all the pieces fall into place. Twists will shock and challenge you, Morrison never sugar-coats the harsh realities her characters have to survive, but she knows her readers, knows what they can handle and pushes them just enough outside their comfort zone to expand their horizon. Love is a magnificent novel that will leave you seeing the world more clearly, so if you haven’t yet, please go pick up a copy and start reading.
“Young people, Lord. Do they still call it infatuation? That magic axe that chops away the world in one blow, leaving only the couple standing there trembling? Whatever they call it, it leaps over anything, takes the biggest chair, the largest slice, rules the ground wherever it walks, from a mansion to a swamp, and its selfishness is its beauty.”