I admit that I haven't read a whole lot of Toni Morrison, not because I didn't want to, but because MY TBR SHELF IS SO SO SO SO CROWDED. You understand what I mean.
I did read Beloved twice, though, and was knocked on my butt both times, not surprisingly. Not having read any of her more recent work, though, allowed me to come to God Help the Child without many preconcieved notions.
First of all, this slim novel (just under 200 pages) is disturbing. Very, very disturbing. It's main focus is on the mental and physical suffering caused by child molestation. Many of the characters in this story are either victims or molesters (including a wrongly-accused one), and after you finish reading, you'll feel like you just watched several SVU episodes back-to-back and you'll feel accordingly disgusted with everything.
I suppose the bigger picture in GHTC is the impact that adults in general have on children and how the latter are inevitably shaped by (for better or worse) the home lives and family members they were destined to grow up with. And yet, cruelty and sexual violence seem to be Morrison's main theme, as if she's trying to understand just how the most innocent among us can be the targets of the cruelest.
Told from several different perspectives, GHTC revolves mostly around Lula Ann ("Bride") who testified as a young girl against a teacher accused of molesting several students (turns out, Bride only did this to make her mother proud and get her mother to notice her, for once). Despite the years that have passed and Bride's successful job with a makeup company, she tries to apologize to the woman who was released after 15 years in prison. The beating that Bride receives at this woman's hands leads to Bride's breakup with her boyfriend Booker, whose own family was nearly wrecked by his older brother's rape and murder.
Along with Bride's story, we learn about Booker's trauma and how the pain has shaped his life; we learn about the wrongly-accused teacher's deadened soul after years in prison; we hear from Bride's mother about her disgust at having given birth to such a black child when she and Bride's father were so light-skinned. All Bride ever wanted, since she was born, was so be touched and loved by her mother (her father abandoned them at her birth), and her mother's withdrawal of affection tormented Bride until she was willing to do anything to be loved. Morrison brings together the themes of love, sexual attraction, sexual violence, and cruelty to make us think more about how our own desires have shaped us.
And yet, GHTC ends too quickly, leaving too many loose ends. One of the most interesting developments, in my opinion, is Bride's bizarre physical regression when Booker leaves her. Between the breakup and Bride's search for him (in order to demand an explanation), she finds her body becoming that of a pre-adolescent's (even though she is in her early thirties(?)). This touch of magical realism that marks many of Morrison's books is never fully explored, and I was very disappointed by that. Nonetheless, I'd recommend GHTC to any and all Morrison fans, and I'm going to go read the rest of her books.