This is a terse read with an even more terse theme: the things we do to children matter. Because children who are raised in pain grow up to be adults in pain, which pain they then pass on to those they love and those who love them.
God help all the children in this book, for all of them have suffered in one way or another. There’s the protagonist, Bride, denied love by her mother because of her black skin. There’s her inamorata Booker, permanently scarred by the death of a beloved brother at the hands of a pedophile. Booker’s aunt Queen has left a trail of abandoned children in her wake, all of whom hate her. And Rain, the only actual child in the book, has fled from a mother who sold her into prostitution. Each of them seeks to mend their wounds in dysfunctional or ineffective ways: through sex, through music, through poetry, through sensory stimulation, through betrayal. Morrison’s message is clear – lest you miss it, Morrison hammers the message home at the end of the first, brutal chapter: “But it’s not my fault. It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault. It’s not.”
Don’t worry about the plot – it scarcely matters, and Morrison scarcely bothers to justify the story’s many improbabilities or inconsistencies. Besides, who reads Morrison for plot? This novel delivers what Morrison’s novels infallibly deliver: memorable characters, lyrical prose, a little magical realism (for example, Bride’s body literally reverting back to adolescence), a whopping dose of empathy for all the damaged people in the world, and the hope of redemption through love.