Cover image for God help the child
Title:
God help the child
ISBN:
9780307594174

9780307740922
Edition:
First edition.
Physical Description:
178 pages ; 22 cm
Summary:
A tale about the way the sufferings of childhood can shape, and misshape, the life of the adult. At the center: a young woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty, her boldness and confidence, her success in life, but which caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love. There is Booker, the man Bride loves, and loses to anger. Rain, the mysterious white child with whom she crosses paths. And finally, Bride's mother herself, Sweetness, who takes a lifetime to come to understand that "what you do to children matters. And they might never forget."
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Summary

Summary

Spare and unsparing, God Help the Child --the first novel by Toni Morrison to be set in our current moment--weaves a tale about the way the sufferings of childhood can shape, and misshape, the life of the adult.

At the center: a young woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty, her boldness and confidence, her success in life, but which caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love. There is Booker, the man Bride loves, and loses to anger. Rain, the mysterious white child with whom she crosses paths. And finally, Bride's mother herself, Sweetness, who takes a lifetime to come to understand that "what you do to children matters. And they might never forget."

A fierce and provocative novel that adds a new dimension to the matchless oeuvre of Toni Morrison.


Author Notes

Toni Morrison was born in Lorain, Ohio on February 18, 1931. She received a B.A. in English from Howard University in 1953 and a master's degree in English from Cornell University in 1955 with her thesis on the theme of suicide in modern literature. She taught at several universities including Texas Southern University, Howard University, and Princeton University.

Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970. Her other works include Sula, Tar Baby, Jazz, Paradise, Love, A Mercy, Home, and God Help the Child. She has won several awards including the National Book Critics Circle Award for Song of Solomon in 1977, the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved in 1988, the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, the Edward MacDowell Medal for her outstanding contribution to American culture in 2016, and the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction in 2016. She also co-wrote children's books with her son, Slade Morrison, including The Big Box, The Book of Mean People, and Peeny Butter Fudge.

Toni Morrison passed away on August 5, 2019 at the age of 88, after a short illness.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 6

Publisher's Weekly Review

Morrison's latest novel finds adults struggling to overcome the emotional scars of childhood. The story begins with the birth of Lula Ann Bridewell, a deep blue-black-skinned baby whose light-skinned mother cannot stand to touch her. Grown-up Lula Ann transforms herself into Bride, a glamorous fashion executive who still yearns for love and acceptance in her personal life. Amid preparations for the launch of her signature cosmetics line, Bride offers a gift bag of cash and cosmetics to parolee Sofia Huxley, the kindergarten teacher Bride accused of sexual abuse 15 years before. Sofia's angry rejection of Bride's present, coinciding with the departure of Bride's lover, inspires such self-doubt that Bride fears regressing into Lula Ann. Morrison reads with tremendous insight and empathy for the characters, vividly bringing them to life. Every emotional nuance-yearning, bewilderment, anger, love, self-empowerment-resonates in her voice, making this a powerful audio experience that elevates Morrison's already remarkable and memorable prose. A Knopf hardcover. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Booklist Review

This novel is brief for Morrison brief for most any major novelist. There is a lot of foundational information for readers to quickly learn in the opening pages. Brevity for Morrison doesn't mean cutting out lots of plot development and character presentation. It means that the usual amount of that kind of elaboration is condensed in fewer pages than what would be expected. So there is no wading into the story and gathering at a measured pace all the important clues about people and events that the reader ordinarily has time to absorb and process. The theme can be gleaned from the title. This is a novel about how psychological damage in childhood influences the way an adult leads his or her life. Four voices, four characters the primary one being Bride, born so dark-skinned that her light-skinned mother was loathe to even touch her give solo articulation to their hurts when young and the consequent dented versions of their adult selves. Now, the strength of the novel and it does indeed gain compelling strength is that it becomes a swirl of deep emotions, sucking the reader in, which is good, because the point of the novel is to empathize as deeply as possible with what these characters experience. High-Demand Backstory: A new Morrison novel? Stock up. Enough said.--Hooper, Brad Copyright 2015 Booklist


New York Review of Books Review

EMPIRE OF DECEPTION: The Incredible Story of a Master Swindler Who Seduced a City and Captivated the Nation, by Dean Jobb. (Algonquin, $16.95.) In 1920s Chicago, Leo Koretz defrauded hundreds of people (including members of his own family) and lured them to invest millions of dollars in bogus overseas projects. Jobb's rollicking history of the con man doubles as a sobering reminder that, as our reviewer, Paula Uruburu, said, "those who think everything is theirs for the taking are destined to be taken." GOD HELP THE CHILD, by Toni Morrison. (Vintage, $14.95.) Even as a baby, Bride, the character at the heart of this story, was spurned by her parents because of her dark skin, and her cold upbringing reverberates throughout her adult life. The novel, which our reviewer, Kara Walker, called "a brisk modern-day fairy tale with shades of the Brothers Grimm," delivers a blunt moral: "What you do to children matters." THERE WAS AND THERE WAS NOT: A Journey Through Hate and Possibility in Turkey, Armenia, and Beyond, by Meline Toumani. (Picador/Metropolitan/Holt, $18.) Growing up in an Armenian community in New Jersey, Toumani was steeped in fierce anti-Turkish rhetoric revolving around the genocide that began in 1915. As an adult, she moved to Istanbul to better understand the Turkish view. Her memoir recounts her years living amid an alternate understanding of history. A LITTLE LIFE, by Hanya Yanagihara. (Anchor, $17.) This expansive novel is an exploration of heartbreak and the limits of human resilience. Yanagihara's central character, Jude, emerges from a brutal childhood and builds an ostensibly successful life - he graduates with a law degree from Harvard, finds meaningful work as a litigator and is the heart of a close-knit group of friends - yet struggles to reconcile his past traumas. OUR LIVES, OUR FORTUNES AND OUR SACRED HONOR: The Forging of American Independence, 1774-1776, by Richard R. Beeman. (Basic Books, $18.99.) American independence from Britain may seem to have been an inevitable outcome, but Beeman offers a window into a time when that future was not so certain. His account follows the 22 months when delegates from the colonies, often with no more in common with one another than their status as British subjects, imagined a cohesive nation and identity. OUTLAWS, by Javier Cercas. Translated by Anne McLean. (Bloomsbury, $18.) In the late 1970s, when teenage gangs roamed post-Franco Spain, this novel's narrator, Ignacio Cañas, joined a group headed by a notorious outlaw, Zarco, but left after a failed robbery. Years later, Cañas is a successful lawyer and Zarco is in jail, but the men's lives intersect again. STALIN. VOLUME I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928, by Stephen Kotkin. (Penguin, $25.) This book, the first of a projected three-volume study, recounts Stalin's childhood in Georgia and subsequent rise to power. Kotkin's account also delivers an impressive history of late imperial Russia.


Guardian Review

As her latest book God Help the Child is published, the Nobel prizewinner talks about the danger of beauty, supporting Hillary and earning the right to say 'Shut up' Of all the mantles that have been foisted on Toni Morrison's shoulders, the heaviest has to be "the conscience of America". It's both absurd-sounding and true. For almost half a century her subject has been racial prejudice in the United States, a story that she has told and retold with a steadiness of rage and compassion. Her latest novel, God Help the Child, is her 11th and when I arrive at her apartment in Tribeca, Lower Manhattan, America's Conscience is having her eyebrows drawn on. "For the photographer," she explains with a chuckle. Later, she'll tell the photographer: "We did makeup for you. I have eyebrows and everything," then add: "You lose all that stuff ... " The implied second half of that sentence is "when you reach my age": Morrison turned 84 in February. Her many literary laurels include a Pulitzer in 1988 for Beloved, a Nobel in 1993, and, in 2012, the presidential medal of freedom, from her friend Barack Obama. Being America's most venerated living writer does not, however, stop a person wanting to look good in pictures. And, it is natural that beauty and the notion of self-image are on her mind as at the centre of her new book is a striking, dark-skinned woman called Bride who tries to shield herself from her own past with surface beautification. A love story unfolds, precariously, between her and Booker, a scholarly young black man adrift in grief for a dead brother. He tells her: "scientifically there's no such thing as race, Bride, so racism without race is a choice. Taught, of course, by those who need it, but still a choice. Folks who practice it would be nothing without it." Bride's blackness is both the source of her childhood misery -- her lighter-skinned mother is so horrified by it that she considers killing her baby -- and of her adult success. She works in the fashion and beauty industry where, heeding one stylist's dictum to dress only in white, she makes herself, "a panther in snow", an exoticised "other". The novel intimates that fetishising blackness, both for the observer and the observed, might be just as insidious as outright prejudice. There's the ex-boyfriend, for example, who seems to claim her as some kind of racial trophy. When this young white man takes her home to his parents it's clear "that I was there to terrorise his family, a means of threat to this nice old white couple. 'Isn't she beautiful?' he kept repeating ... His eyes were gleaming with malice." "I'm trying to say," Morrison tells me now, "it's just a colour." As for beauty: "It can destabilise you if that's all you have and that's all you care about and that's where your success comes from. There's a three-dimensional person somewhere outside the clothes and the makeup and the nudity, as they call it, since everybody beautiful is buck naked now. I mean," she says, switching into a tone of outrage that is tinged with self-parody -- an older woman pronouncing on the waywardness of the young -- "they don't even make gowns any more that are not, you know ..." and she gestures over her bosom to delineate extreme skimpiness. "Now think about this," she continues, her voice becoming low and mysterious in the manner of a seasoned storyteller. She pauses for effect. "The nipple is the first thing every human being sucks on. Comfort, nurture, you know? But it's not like 'Uhh'" and she mimes jutting a breast out in sexual exaggeration. Once her wheezes of laughter subside, she observes mildly: "That's interesting how that happened." The new novel's obvious precedent is 1981's Tar Baby, the only other of her novels to have a contemporary setting, in which a Sorbonne-educated fashion model, Jadine, who fears she has been deracinated by the world of white culture she has come to inhabit, falls in love with Son, a penniless drifter at complete ease with himself and his blackness. If more seems to be at stake in this earlier book, it might simply be a reflection of the increasing superficiality of our moment: Jadine may have been a model but she is not the appearance-obsessed, emotionally stunted child-woman that Bride is. The universe of God Help the Child can seem a little thinner, even as redemption and deliverance bloom. But with its island of spirits and talking trees, Tar Baby, Morrison points out, is more timeless phantasmagoria than identifiable present reality. So this, really, is her first contemporary novel and she admits that it gave her some trepidation. "It was so fluid," she says. "Everything else I sort of had a theme about but this doesn't have any anchor for me. But then I thought, well, yes it does, it's what we started this conversation about. Beauty -- and its worth in the world. And what does that do." It was a similar question that began her publishing career 45 years ago. She has always talked about her first novel with disarming simplicity: it was the book she wanted to read and that did not exist. So, as a single working mother of two small sons, she rose at 4am every day and wrote it. Published in 1970, The Bluest Eye is the story of Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl who prays for blue eyes. Morrison wrote in a 2007 foreword that she wanted to focus "on how something as grotesque as the demonisation of an entire race could take root inside the most delicate member of society: a child; the most vulnerable member: a female". Most writers claim to abhor labels but Morrison has always welcomed the term "black writer". "I'm writing for black people," she says, "in the same way that Tolstoy was not writing for me, a 14-year-old coloured girl from Lorain, Ohio. I don't have to apologise or consider myself limited because I don't [write about white people] -- which is not absolutely true, there are lots of white people in my books. The point is not having the white critic sit on your shoulder and approve it" -- she refers to the writer James Baldwin talking about "a little white man deep inside of all of us". Did she exorcise hers? "Well I never really had it. I just never did." She'd say it's because she grew up in Lorain, where the neighbourhood was racially mixed: Poles, Italians and Jews as well as African Americans. I'd say it's less to do with demographics and more to do with her own supreme self-assurance. It was this that propelled her to Howard University and then on to Cornell, where she completed a master's in literature. It was this self-assurance, too, that gave her the courage to split from her husband when she was pregnant with her second child and, that made her such an iconoclastic force as an editor at Random House where she propelled works by black writers such as Angela Davis and Toni Cade Bambara into the mainstream. Finally, of course, she herself became one of the publishing house's most cherished names. It was Beloved, her 1987 novel about a slave woman who kills her own baby, that secured her current standing. When it failed to win the National book award, 48 black writers signed a letter of protest published in the New York Times. Soon after, it won the Pulitzer prize and a clutch of other awards. In 1998, Oprah Winfrey produced and starred in a box-office-flop adaptation of the book and in the years since then, Morrison's literary reputation has been tainted with a slight suspicion of sentimentality, that snobby apprehension that she might be "a book club" author: the kind of writer, in other words, we read to feel better about ourselves, rather than the kind we read to better ourselves. Her novels, though, are not palliatives. There are moments in God Help the Child that made my stomach lurch with the same horror that I felt reading the description of Sethe in Beloved slitting her baby's throat. Evil itself, Morrison says, is, "completely boring": the thing she finds "intellectually fascinating" is how people respond to it. "Cowards are so dangerous. It's that quality that informs serious hostility -- you want to kill somebody for whatever reason, or invent a reason, that's where that comes from." This is the second time I have met Morrison. The first was three years ago, weeks after Trayvon Martin was killed. Then, she told me: "There are two things I want to see in life. One is a white kid shot in the back by a cop. Never happened. The second thing I want to see: a record of any white man in the entire history of the world who has been convicted of raping a black woman. Just one." They are statements that attracted attention when she reiterated them recently. "Hasn't happened," she says of the first wish. "If it has happened, I don't know a thing about it. But that second thing? Never. Uh-uh. No matter what she says. No, not a white man. Even if everyone knows about it." Arguably, there is yet to be "a good year for race in America", but 2014, with its sickening roster of black lives lost at the hands of police, seemed especially bleak. "You understand, don't you," she says, "that this is not new -- it's in the press. Which is good but it's always been that way. I have sons. They have to say "Sir" if a police officer stops them. You know ... strategies for getting around." The present tense and plural "sons" is poignant: Morrison lost Slade, her second son, to pancreatic cancer in 2010. His paintings -- abstract portraits -- hang on the wall opposite us, "all ears and no mouths because he said mouths are the most difficult thing". She pauses: "He died, somebody told me, five years ago. Is that true? I thought it was like two years ago, or maybe yesterday. How could it be five years ago? I don't know what to do with it." There is bewilderment, too, when she considers the end of Obama's term. "Who's going to follow? I think his presidency's remarkable. I think it will be categorised as one of the most extraordinary, not only because of what he has done, but also because of the resistance." Her hopes rest on Hillary Clinton. "I respect and appreciate her. It was difficult in the beginning to choose between her and him. I didn't want to do the, 'Which is better? Gender or race?' And the only other thing I can say is the opposition is not even qualified. You know?" (Another great wheezing chuckle.) "There may be some people in the Democratic party who could give it a run. But, no, I would be on her side. Strongly." A few months ago, when Morrison was interviewed by her friend Hilton Als, the writer and critic, she told him that now she's in her 80s, there are three things she gets to say. One is "No". The other is "Shut up". And the third is "Get out". In other words, she has earned her right not to do what she doesn't want to do. That includes writing a memoir, even though she signed a two-book contract with Random House that included one. "And then I thought about it and I said, 'I'm not writing a memoir: I'm not interested, I know that part'." Later, she adds: "So much contemporary fiction, even when it's well written is sort of ... self-referential. I used to teach creative writing at Princeton and I would say ' Don't do that. Don't write about your little life'." Her tone is one of real distaste. "Some people just close when they get old," she says. "But if you're open, if you have been, you can rely on the lived wisdom of the elderly. It's not the book learning, it's the lived wisdom. I ask friends of mine, 'How old are you, inside? ', and they always know. I know that I am 23. There's a moment when you just arrive." Or rather, in her case, there are many moments -- at 84 going on 23, she continues to arrive. * God Help the Child is published by Chatto and Windus. - Hermione Hoby.


Kirkus Review

Brutality, racism and lies are relieved by moments of connection in Morrison's latest.A little girl is born with skin so black her mother will not touch her. Desperate for approval, to just once have her mother take her hand, she tells a lie that puts an innocent schoolteacher in jail for decades. Later, the ebony-skinned girl will change her name to Bride, wear only white, become a cosmetics entrepreneur, drive a Jaguar. Her lover, a man named Booker, also bears a deep scar on his soulhis older brother was abducted, tortured and murdered by a pedophilic serial killer. This is a skinny, fast-moving novel filled with tragic incidents, most sketched in a few haunting sentences: "The last time Booker saw Adam he was skateboarding down the sidewalk in twilight, his yellow T-shirt fluorescent under the Northern Ash trees." When Bride's falsely accused teacher is released from prison, there's a new round of trouble. Booker leaves, Bride goes after himand ends up in the woods, recovering from a car accident with hippie survivalists who have adopted a young girl abused by her prostitute mother. Meanwhile, Bride is anxiously watching her own body metamorphose into that of a childher pubic hair has vanished, her chest has flattened, her earlobes are smooth. As in the darkest fairy tales, there will be fire and death. There will also be lobster salad, Smartwater and Louis Vuitton; the mythic aspects of this novel are balanced by moments like the one in which Bride decides that the song that most represents her relationship with Booker is "I Wanna Dance with Somebody." A chilling oracle and a lively storyteller, Nobel winner Morrison continues the work she began 45 years ago with The Bluest Eye. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Library Journal Review

In her 11th novel, Morrison (Beloved) relates a story-a fable, really-about childhood abuse, family, history, and time. Lula Ann Bridewell, born with blue-black skin, was rejected by her light-skinned mother, Sweetness. As an adult, Lula Ann (who renames herself Bride) is successful and loved by her boyfriend Booker. All this changes, however, when Bride decides to make amends for a terrible lie she told as a child. Morrison's storytelling is always powerful, but in this novel that power is muted. There are moments of lyric wonder, beautifully conveyed by the author's own narration, but too often the descriptions of characters (except for Bride and Sweetness) seem short, even truncated, and there are times when the reader wishes that the touches of magic realism that appear would become more integral to the overall plot. VERDICT Even with these flaws, the storytelling accumulates a strength and drive that are distinctive to Morrison, making this, in the end, a worthwhile listen. ["There are some moves here that may seem obvious, but the pieces all fit together seamlessly in a story about beating back the past, confronting the present, and understanding one's worth": LJ 3/15/15 starred review of the Knopf hc.]-Wendy -Galgan, St. Francis Coll., Brooklyn © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Sweetness I t'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. Midnight black, Sudanese black. I'm 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. Tar is the closest I can think of yet her hair don't go with the skin. It's different--straight but curly like those naked tribes in Australia. You might think she's a throwback, but throwback to what? You should've seen my grandmother; she passed for white and never said another word to any one of her children. Any letter she got from my mother or my aunts she sent right back, unopened. Finally they got the message of no message and let her be. Almost all mulatto types and quadroons did that back in the day--if they had the right kind of hair, that is. Can you imagine how many white folks have Negro blood running and hiding in their veins? Guess. Twenty percent, I heard. My own mother, Lula Mae, could have passed easy, but she chose not to. She told me the price she paid for that decision. When she and my father went to the courthouse to get married there were two Bibles and they had to put their hands on the one reserved for Negroes. The other one was for white people's hands. The Bible! Can you beat it? My mother was housekeeper for a rich white couple. They ate every meal she cooked and insisted she scrub their backs while they sat in the tub and God knows what other intimate things they made her do, but no touching of the same Bible. Some of you probably think it's a bad thing to group ourselves according to skin color--the lighter, the better--in social clubs, neighborhoods, churches, sororities, even colored schools. But how else can we hold on to a little dignity? How else can you avoid being spit on in a drugstore, shoving elbows at the bus stop, walking in the gutter to let whites have the whole sidewalk, charged a nickel at the grocer's for a paper bag that's free to white shoppers? Let alone all the name-calling. I heard about all of that and much, much more. But because of my mother's skin color, she wasn't stopped from trying on hats in the department stores or using their ladies' room. And my father could try on shoes in the front part of the shoestore, not in a back room. Neither one would let themselves drink from a "colored only" fountain even if they were dying of thirst. I hate to say it, but from the very beginning in the maternity ward the baby, Lula Ann, embarrassed me. Her birth skin was pale like all babies', even African ones, but it changed fast. I thought I was going crazy when she turned blue-black right before my eyes. I know I went crazy for a minute because once--just for a few seconds--I held a blanket over her face and pressed. But I couldn't do that, no matter how much I wished she hadn't been born with that terrible color. I even thought of giving her away to an orphanage someplace. And I was scared to be one of those mothers who put their babies on church steps. Recently I heard about a couple in Germany, white as snow, who had a dark-skinned baby nobody could explain. Twins, I believe--one white, one colored. But I don't know if it's true. All I know is that for me, nursing her was like having a pickaninny sucking my teat. I went to bottle-feeding soon as I got home. My husband, Louis, is a porter and when he got back off the rails he looked at me like I really was crazy and looked at her like she was from the planet Jupiter. He wasn't a cussing man so when he said, "Goddamn! What the hell is this?" I knew we were in trouble. That's what did it--what caused the fights between me and him. It broke our marriage to pieces. We had three good years together but when she was born he blamed me and treated Lula Ann like she was a stranger--more than that, an enemy. He never touched her. I never did convince him that I ain't never, ever fooled around with another man. He was dead sure I was lying. We argued and argued till I told him her blackness must be from his own family--not mine. That's when it got worse, so bad he just up and left and I had to look for another, cheaper place to live. I knew enough not to take her with me when I applied to landlords so I left her with a teenage cousin to babysit. I did the best I could and didn't take her outside much anyway because when I pushed her in the baby carriage, friends or strangers would lean down and peek in to say something nice and then give a start or jump back before frowning. That hurt. I could have been the babysitter if our skin colors were reversed. It was hard enough just being a colored woman--even a high-yellow one--trying to rent in a decent part of the city. Back in the nineties when Lula Ann was born, the law was against discriminating in who you could rent to, but not many landlords paid attention to it. They made up reasons to keep you out. But I got lucky with Mr. Leigh. I know he upped the rent seven dollars from what he advertised, and he has a fit if you a minute late with the money. I told her to call me "Sweetness" instead of "Mother" or "Mama." It was safer. Being that black and having what I think are too-thick lips calling me "Mama" would confuse people. Besides, she has funny-colored eyes, crow-black with a blue tint, something witchy about them too. So it was just us two for a long while and I don't have to tell you how hard it is being an abandoned wife. I guess Louis felt a little bit bad after leaving us like that because a few months later on he found out where I moved to and started sending me money once a month, though I never asked him to and didn't go to court to get it. His fifty-dollar money orders and my night job at the hospital got me and Lula Ann off welfare. Which was a good thing. I wish they would stop calling it welfare and go back to the word they used when my mother was a girl. Then it was called "Relief." Sounds much better, like it's just a short-term breather while you get yourself together. Besides, those welfare clerks are mean as spit. When finally I got work and didn't need them anymore, I was making more money than they ever did. I guess meanness filled out their skimpy paychecks, which is why they treated us like beggars. More so when they looked at Lula Ann and back at me--like I was cheating or something. Things got better but I still had to be careful. Very careful in how I raised her. I had to be strict, very strict. Lula Ann needed to learn how to behave, how to keep her head down and not to make trouble. I don't care how many times she changes her name. Her color is a cross she will always carry. But it's not my fault. It's not my fault. It's not my fault. It's not. Bride I 'm scared. Something bad is happening to me. I feel like I'm melting away. I can't explain it to you but I do know when it started. It began after he said, "You not the woman I want." "Neither am I." I still don't know why I said that. It just popped out of my mouth. But when he heard my sassy answer he shot me a hateful look before putting on his jeans. Then he grabbed his boots and T-shirt and when I heard the door slam I wondered for a split second if he was not just ending our silly argument, but ending us, our relationship. Couldn't be. Any minute I would hear the key turn, the front door click open and close. But I didn't hear anything the whole night. Nothing at all. What? I'm not exciting enough? Or pretty enough? I can't have thoughts of my own? Do things he doesn't approve of? By morning soon as I woke up I was furious. Glad he was gone because clearly he was just using me since I had money and a crotch. I was so angry, if you had seen me you would have thought I had spent those six months with him in a holding cell without arraignment or a lawyer, and suddenly the judge called the whole thing off--dismissed the case or refused to hear it at all. Anyway I refused to whine, wail or accuse. He said one thing; I agreed. Fuck him. Besides, our affair wasn't all that spectacular--not even the mildly dangerous sex I used to let myself enjoy. Well, anyway it was nothing like those double-page spreads in fashion magazines, you know, couples standing half naked in surf, looking so fierce and downright mean, their sexuality like lightning and the sky going dark to show off the shine of their skin. I love those ads. But our affair didn't even measure up to any old R-&-B song--some tune with a beat arranged to generate fever. It wasn't even the sugary lyrics of a thirties blues song: "Baby, baby, why you treat me so? I do anything you say, go anywhere you want me to go." Why I kept comparing us to magazine spreads and music I can't say, but it tickled me to settle on "I Wanna Dance with Somebody." It was raining the next day. Bullet taps on the windows followed by crystal lines of water. I avoided the temptation to glance through the panes at the sidewalk beneath my condo. Besides, I knew what was out there--nasty-looking palm trees lining the road, benches in that tacky little park, few if any pedestrians, a sliver of sea far beyond. I fought giving in to any wish that he was coming back. When a tiny ripple of missing him surfaced, I beat it back. Around noon I opened a bottle of Pinot Grigio and sank into the sofa, its suede and silk cushions as comfy as any arms. Almost. Because I have to admit he is one beautiful man, flawless even, except for a tiny scar on his upper lip and an ugly one on his shoulder--an orange-red blob with a tail. Otherwise, head to toe, he is one gorgeous man. I'm not so bad myself, so imagine how we looked as a couple. After a glass or two of the wine I was a little buzzed, and decided to call my friend Brooklyn, tell her all about it. How he hit me harder than a fist with six words: You not the woman I want. How they rattled me so I agreed with them. So stupid. But then I changed my mind about calling her. You know how it is. Nothing new. Just he walked out and I don't know why. Besides, too much was happening at the office for me to bother my best friend and colleague with gossip about another breakup. Especially now. I'm regional manager now and that's like being a captain so I have to maintain the right relationship with the crew. Our company, Sylvia, Inc., is a small cosmetics business, but it's beginning to blossom and make waves, finally, and shed its frumpy past. It used to be Sylph Corsets for Discriminating Women back in the forties, but changed its name and ownership to Sylvia Apparel, then to Sylvia, Inc., before going flat-out hip with six cool cosmetics lines, one of which is mine. I named it YOU, GIRL: Cosmetics for Your Personal Millennium. It's for girls and women of all complexions from ebony to lemonade to milk. And it's mine, all mine--the idea, the brand, the campaign. Wiggling my toes under the silk cushion I couldn't help smiling at the lipstick smile on my wineglass, thinking, "How about that, Lula Ann? Did you ever believe you would grow up to be this hot, or this successful?" Maybe  she  was the woman he wanted. But Lula Ann Bridewell is no longer available and she was never a woman. Lula Ann was a sixteen-year-old-me who dropped that dumb countryfied name as soon as I left high school. I was Ann Bride for two years until I interviewed for a sales job at Sylvia, Inc., and, on a hunch, shortened my name to Bride, with nothing anybody needs to say before or after that one memorable syllable. Customers and reps like it, but he ignored it. He called me "baby" most of the time. "Hey, baby"; "Come on, baby." And sometimes "You my girl," accent on the  my.  The only time he said "woman" was the day he split. The more white wine the more I thought good riddance. No more dallying with a mystery man with no visible means of support. An ex-felon if ever there was one, though he laughed when I teased him about how he spent his time when I was at the office: Idle? Roaming? Or meeting someone? He said his Saturday afternoon trips downtown were not reports to a probation officer or drug rehab counselor. Yet he never told me what they were. I told him every single thing about myself; he confided nothing, so I just made stuff up with TV plots: he was an informant with a new identity, a disbarred lawyer. Whatever. I didn't really care. Actually the timing of his leaving was perfect for me. With him gone out of my life and out of my apartment I could concentrate on the launch of YOU, GIRL and, equally important, keep a promise I'd made to myself long before I met him--we fought about it the night he said "You not the woman. . . ." According to prisoninfo.org/paroleboard/calendar, it was time. I'd been planning this trip for a year, choosing carefully what a parolee would need: I saved up five thousand dollars in cash over the years, and bought a three-thousand-dollar Continental Airlines gift certificate. I put a promotional box of YOU, GIRL into a brand-new Louis Vuitton shopping bag, all of which could take her anywhere. Comfort her, anyway; help her forget and take the edge off bad luck, hopelessness and boredom. Well, maybe not boredom, no prison is a convent. He didn't understand why I was so set on going and the night when we quarreled about my promise, he ran off. I guess I threatened his ego by doing some Good Samaritan thing not directed at him. Selfish bastard. I paid the rent, not him, and the maid too. When we went to clubs and concerts we rode in my beautiful Jaguar or in cars I hired. I bought him beautiful shirts--although he never wore them--and did all the shopping. Besides, a promise is a promise, especially if it's to oneself. It was when I got dressed for the drive I noticed the first peculiar thing. Every bit of my pubic hair was gone. Not gone as in shaved or waxed, but gone as in erased, as in never having been there in the first place. It scared me, so I threaded through the hair on my head to see if it was shedding, but it was as thick and slippery as it had always been. Allergy? Skin disease, maybe? It worried me but there was no time to do more than be anxious and plan to see a dermatologist. I had to be on my way to make it on time. I suppose other people might like the scenery bordering this highway but it's so thick with lanes, exits, parallel roads, overpasses, cautionary signals and signs it's like being forced to read a newspaper while driving. Annoying. Along with amber alerts, silver and gold ones were springing up. I stayed in the right lane and slowed down because from past drives out this way I knew the Norristown exit was easy to miss and the prison had no sign of its existence in the world for a mile beyond the exit ramp. I guess they didn't want tourists to know that some of the reclaimed desert California is famous for holds evil women. Decagon Women's Correctional Center, right outside Norristown, owned by a private company, is worshipped by the locals for the work it provides: serving visitors, guards, clerical staff, cafeteria workers, health care folks and most of all construction laborers repairing the road and fences and adding wing after wing to house the increasing flood of violent, sinful women committing bloody female crimes. Lucky for the state, crime does pay. Excerpted from God Help the Child by Toni Morrison All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.