Sweetness says, “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 to realize something was wrong. Really wrong. She was so black she scared me.” A light-skinned high yellow woman married to a light-skinned man has a baby who is black as midnight and because she can’t bring herself to get rid of it in any way, raises her very strict. She teaches this girl to behave, keep her head down and not make trouble, but without love or touching.
This girl grows up and becomes a powerhouse of beauty and success. She always dresses completely in white and calls herself Bride. She has her own line of beauty products and makes plenty of money. But when Booker, the man she loves, tells her one day that she is not the woman he wants and leaves, she loses it and begins to trash her own life. At the same time she seems to herself to be living backwards into her past.
Revolving chapters between Sweetness, Bride, Brooklyn (who Bride thinks is her best friend) and Booker, the stories of all these people come into focus. Like a mirror ball of somewhat distorted flashes, Toni Morrison shows the fractured sense of self these characters live by. Skin color combined with loss, family conflict, and betrayal are the personal burdens that nearly nullify Bride and Booker.
The novel is short. It is not however hopeless. Toni Morrison’s books keep getting shorter by which she ramps up the power of her stories. Human beings, she seems to be telling us, are not defined by their color no matter how much society continues to practice discrimination based on that fact alone. Human beings are defined by their strength or weakness in the face of trouble. We succumb or we don’t, but we love the stories of both.
A few days ago, in an interview in the New York Times Magazine, Ms Morrison tells Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, “What I’m interested in is writing without the gaze, without the white gaze. In so many earlier books by African-American writers, particularly the men, I felt that they were not writing to me. But what interested me was the African-American experience throughout whichever time I spoke of. It was always about African-American culture and people — good, bad, indifferent, whatever — but that was, for me, the universe.”