Loveby Toni Morrison
In life, Bill Cosey enjoyed the affections of many women, who would do almost anything to gain his favor. In death his hold on them may be
Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison’s spellbinding new novel is a Faulknerian symphony of passion and hatred, power and perversity, color and class that spans three generations of black women in a fading beach town.
In life, Bill Cosey enjoyed the affections of many women, who would do almost anything to gain his favor. In death his hold on them may be even stronger. Wife, daughter, granddaughter, employee, mistress: As Morrison’s protagonists stake their furious claim on Cosey’s memory and estate, using everything from intrigue to outright violence, she creates a work that is shrewd, funny, erotic, and heartwrenching.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
“A deeply affecting work by a Great American Novelist who is still . . . at the top of her form. . . . Morrison’s tender, taut prose wastes no word, no syllable, no letter. . . . A novel of devastating revelations, impeccably arranged.” –The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“A marvelous work, which enlarges our conception not only of love but of racial politics, the ubiquitous past and . . . paradise.” –Los Angeles Times Book Review
“A dense, dark star of a novel . . . with Morrison writing at the top of her game.” –Newsweek
“Toni Morrison reframes the mythology of love in a dark light and comes away with a mesmerizing gem.” –San Francisco Chronicle
“Like every other stealthy Morrison novel, Love has closets and cellars, bolt-holes and trap-doors and card tricks. . . . Yet again, she gives us dreams.” –John Leonard, Vanity Fair
“The carefully crafted work of a storyteller entirely unburdened by her Nobel Prize. . . . William Faulkner and Eudora Welty would feel right welcome. . . . The moral palette of this novel displays a full range of colors.” –The Christian Science Monitor
“A profound commentary on the power of love.” –The Baltimore Sun
“Love is slim and tight as a folded fan, yet from it the author flashes a panorama three generations wide. . . . When the reader closes the book . . . there is the satisfaction of a song that has ended just right. The standing soloist we applaud . . . is the fierce literary intelligence of Morrison striking the chords of human experience and playing it wise.” –The Miami Herald
“Magisterial and gripping . . . a knockout. . . . A reminder of what a marvel a novel can be.” –Rocky Mountain News
“To enter a novel by Morrison is to enter a world fully imagined, and Love is no exception. . . . Love takes you on the first page and holds you in the welcome spell of a writer who knows what she’s doing, and who can slip into the most ordinary sentence a twist of surprise.” –San Jose Mercury News
“Love is Morrison back at the peak of her talent. . . . The novel lives up to its name and puts to rest any doubts that its author is anything except great.” –New York Daily News
“[A] beautifully wrought meditation on society, family and human nature . . . brimming with provocative, beautiful writing.” –The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Love . . . [is] like that song you remember from long ago, the one you danced to, sweet and slow, and which has haunted you ever since. . . . Morrison’s tale lies in its telling, not just the lilting lyricism of her prose but also the insight into her characters’ hidden hearts.” –The Orlando Sentinel
“For pure pleasure, it deserves to be read more than once.” –The Plain Dealer
“There is beauty and wisdom in Love. . . . Her lyrical talent and her profound intelligence . . . make themselves felt.” –The New York Observer
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt
The day she walked the streets of Silk, a chafing wind kept the temperature low and the sun was helpless to move outdoor thermometers more than a few degrees above freezing. Tiles of ice had formed at the shoreline and, inland, the thrown-together houses on Monarch Street whined like puppies. Ice slick gleamed, then disappeared in the early evening shadow, causing the sidewalks she marched along to undermine even an agile tread, let alone one with a faint limp. She should have bent her head and closed her eyes to slits in that weather, but being a stranger, she stared wide-eyed at each house, searching for the address that matched the one in the advertisement: One Monarch Street. Finally she turned into a driveway where Sandler Gibbons stood in his garage door ripping the seam from a sack of Ice-Off. He remembers the crack of her heels on concrete as she approached; the angle of her hip as she stood there, the melon sun behind her, the garage light in her face. He remembers the pleasure of her voice when she asked for directions to the house of women he has known all his life.
"You sure?" he asked when she told him the address.
She took a square of paper from a jacket pocket, held it with ungloved fingers while she checked, then nodded.
Sandler Gibbons scanned her legs and reckoned her knees and thighs were stinging from the cold her tiny skirt exposed them to. Then he marveled at the height of her bootheels, the cut of her short leather jacket. At first he'd thought she wore a hat, something big and fluffy to keep her ears and neck warm. Then he realized that it was hair-blown forward by the wind, distracting him from her face. She looked to him like a sweet child, fine-boned, gently raised but lost.
"Cosey women," he said. "That's their place you looking for. It ain't been number one for a long time now, but you can't tell them that. Can't tell them nothing. It 1410 or 1401, probably."
Now it was her turn to question his certainty.
"I'm telling you," he said, suddenly irritable-the wind, he thought, tearing his eyes. "Go on up thataway. You can't miss it 'less you try to. Big as a church."
She thanked him but did not turn around when he hollered at her back, "Or a jailhouse."
Sandler Gibbons didn't know what made him say that. He believed his wife was on his mind. She would be off the bus by now, stepping carefully on slippery pavement until she got to their driveway. There she would be safe from falling because, with the forethought and common sense he was known for, he was prepared for freezing weather in a neighborhood that had no history of it. But the "jailhouse" comment meant he was really thinking of Romen, his grandson, who should have been home from school an hour and a half ago. Fourteen, way too tall, and getting muscled, there was a skulk about him, something furtive that made Sandler Gibbons stroke his thumb every time the boy came into view. He and Vida Gibbons had been pleased to have him, raise him, when their daughter and son-in-law enlisted. Mother in the army; father in the merchant marines. The best choice out of none when only pickup work (housecleaning in Harbor for the women, hauling road trash for the men) was left after the cannery closed. "Parents idle, children sidle," his own mother used to say. Getting regular yard work helped, but not enough to keep Romen on the dime and out of the sight line of ambitious, under-occupied police. His own boyhood had been shaped by fear of vigilantes, but dark blue uniforms had taken over posse work now. What thirty years ago was a one-sheriff, one-secretary department was now four patrol cars and eight officers with walkie-talkies to keep the peace.
He was wiping salt dust from his hands when the two people under his care arrived at the same time, one hollering, "Hoo! Am I glad you did this! Thought I'd break my neck." The other saying, "What you mean, Gran? I had your arm all the way from the bus."
"Course you did, baby." Vida Gibbons smiled, hoping to derail any criticism her husband might be gathering against her grandson.
At dinner, the scalloped potatoes having warmed his mood, Sandler picked up the gossip he'd begun while the three of them were setting the table.
"What did you say she wanted?" Vida asked, frowning. The ham slices had toughened with reheating.
"Looking for those Cosey women, I reckon. That was the address she had. The old address, I mean. When wasn't nobody out here but them."
"That was written on her paper?" She poured a little raisin sauce over her meat.
"I didn't look at it, woman. I just saw her check it. Little scrap of something looked like it came from a newspaper."
"You were concentrating on her legs, I guess. Lot of information there."
Romen covered his mouth and closed his eyes.
"Vida, don't belittle me in front of the boy."
"Well, the first thing you told me was about her skirt. I'm just following your list of priorities."
"I said it was short, that's all."
"How short?" Vida winked at Romen.
"They wear them up to here, Gran." Romen's hand disappeared under the table.
"Up to where?" Vida leaned sideways.
"Will you two quit? I'm trying to tell you something."
"You think she's a niece, maybe?" asked Vida.
"Could be. Didn't look like one, though. Except for size, looked more like Christine's people." Sandler motioned for the jar of jalapeños,
"Christine don't have any people left."
"Maybe she had a daughter you don't know about." Romen just wanted to be in the conversation, but as usual, they looked at him as if his fly was open.
"Watch your mouth," said his grandfather.
"I'm just talking, Gramp. How would I know?"
"You wouldn't, so don't butt in."
"You sucking your teeth at me?"
"Sandler, lighten up. Can't you leave him alone for a minute?" Vida asked.
Sandler opened his mouth to defend his position, but decided to bite the tip off the pepper instead.
"Anyway, the less I hear about those Cosey girls, the better I like it," said Vida.
"Girls?" Romen made a face.
"Well, that's how I think of them. Hincty, snotty girls with as much cause to look down on people as a pot looks down on a skillet."
"They're cool with me," said Romen. "The skinny one, anyway."
Vida glared at him. "Don't you believe it. She pays you; that's all you need from either one."
Romen swallowed. Now she was on his back. "Why you all make me work there if they that bad?"
"Make you?" Sandler scratched a thumb.
"Well, you know, send me over there."
"Drown this boy, Vida. He don't know a favor from a fart."
"We sent you because you need some kind of job, Romen. You've been here four months and it's time you took on some of the weight."
Romen tried to get the conversation back to his employers' weaknesses and away from his own. "Miss Christine always gives me something good to eat."
"I don't want you eating off her stove."
"That's just rumor."
"A rumor with mighty big feet. And I don't trust that other one either. I know what she's capable of."
"You forgot?" Vida's eyebrows lifted in surprise.
"Nobody knows for sure."
"Knows what?" asked Romen.
"Some old mess," said his grandfather.
Vida stood and moved to the refrigerator. "Somebody killed him as sure as I'm sitting here. Wasn't a thing wrong with that man." Dessert was canned pineapple in sherbet glasses. Vida set one at each place. Sandler, unimpressed, leaned back. Vida caught his look but decided to let it lie. She worked; he was on a security guard's hilarious pension. And although he kept the house just fine, she was expected to come home and cook a perfect meal every day.
"What man?" Romen asked.
"Bill Cosey," replied Sandler. "Used to own a hotel and a lot of other property, including the ground under this house."
Vida shook her head. "I saw him the day he died. Hale at breakfast; dead at lunch."
"He had a lot to answer for, Vida."
"Somebody answered for him: 'No lunch.' "
"You forgive that old reprobate anything."
"He paid us good money, Sandler, and taught us, too. Things I never would have known about if I'd kept on living over a swamp in a stilt house. You know what my mother's hands looked like. Because of Bill Cosey, none of us had to keep doing that kind of work."
"It wasn't that bad. I miss it sometimes."
"Miss what? Slop jars? Snakes?"
"Oh, shoot." Vida tossed her spoon into the sherbet glass hard enough to get the clink she wanted.
"Remember the summer storms?" Sandler ignored her. "The air just before-"
"Get up, Romen." Vida tapped the boy's shoulder. "Help me with the dishes."
"I ain't finished, Gran."
"Yes you are. Up."
Romen, forcing air through his lips, pushed back his chair and unfolded himself. He tried to exchange looks with his grandfather, but the old man's eyes were inward.
"Never seen moonlight like that anywhere else." Sandler's voice was low. "Make you want to-" He collected himself. "I'm not saying I would move back."
"I sure hope not." Vida scraped the plates loudly. "You'd need gills."
"Mrs. Cosey said it was a paradise." Romen reached for a cube of pineapple with his fingers.
Vida slapped his hand. "It was a plantation. And Bill Cosey took us off of it."
"The ones he wanted." Sandler spoke to his shoulder.
"I heard that. What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing, Vida. Like you said, the man was a saint."
"There's no arguing with you."
Romen dribbled liquid soap into hot water. His hands felt good sloshing in it, though it stung the bruises on his knuckles. His side hurt more while he stood at the sink, but he felt better listening to his grandparents fussing about the olden days. Less afraid.
From the Hardcover edition.
Meet the Author
Toni Morrison is the Robert F. Goheen Professor of Humanities at Princeton University. She has received the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize. In 1993 she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. She lives in Rockland County, New York, and Princeton, New Jersey.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
- Princeton, New Jersey, and Manhattan
- Date of Birth:
- February 18, 1931
- Place of Birth:
- Lorain, Ohio
- Howard University, B.A. in English, 1953; Cornell, M.A., 1955
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I have found a new love in the literature of Toni Morrison. In former years I would have described her work as confusing and full of itself. Still often times I find myself going back a couple of pages to repeat another paragraph. Yet, that is the beauty of her work- it causes you to think and form images. So many writers of today simply give it to you straight up, we've gotten lazy as readers. Morrison's works are more like poetry- they are not meant to be read in the line at the supermarket (unless you got it like that). I found this book to be one of the most interesting books of her career, only second to Sula. Love reeks of irony. The irony begins with the title. The characters in the book all belong to the same family but, they are full of hate. Well...not really. In fact they are full of love. That becomes apparent at the end of the novel when Heed and Christine find themselves 'too close for comfort'. In addition, every character in the book is full admiration for the dead Cosey. That is the root of the hate among these women- their obsession with him. I also cherish the tone of the novel. The author describes the present and makes it seem like the past, and the further you get into the story it really begins to unfold. All time merges together eventually and the characters become people. And as always no one can create characters like Morrison. Some of the most interesting people I've had the pleasure of meeting! Pick up this book today and free your mind. Turn off the television, and put down the phone. Get under the covers and spend a little time with Toni Morrison. She'll take ya places you've never been before!
I know many people who don't consider LOVE to be one of Toni Morrison's most accomplished novels. I am absolutely not among those persons. While, on its surface, LOVE may seem to be a simple, more straightforward story than the very symbolic BELOVED or the somewhat sketchy and metaphorical PARADISE, I think it's structure is highly sophisticated and could have only been written by one of the world's premier authors. In short, I think LOVE is absolutely perfect in every respect. LOVE is filled with perhaps the quirkiest cast of characters ever to be found in a Toni Morrison work. The book centers around Bill Cosey, the owner of a run down seaside hotel who has been dead for twenty-five years when the novel opens in the 1990s. Although Cosey is the centerpiece of LOVE, it the women in his life and the exertion of his influence over them, as well as their own complex relationships that form the core of LOVE, for Cosey was, by all accounts, charismatic and charming, quirky and beguiling...in short, no ordinary man, and his influence continues to be felt long after his physical presence has departed. There is Cosey's former cook, 'L,' whose narration frames the story contained in LOVE. There is his lover, the mysterious Celestial, his daughter-in-law, May, and, in particular, there is his granddaughter, Christine and his second wife, the arthritic, Heed. Although May, Christine and Heed, now all quite aged, live together in Cosey's decaying mansion, it is the relationship between Christine and Heed that drives the book's narrative because it is Christine and Heed who have the most in common, who are bound together by more than their love and hate for Cosey. It is Christine and Heed who, in childhood, were the fastest of friends and it is Cosey who destroyed that friendship and drove a wedge between the girls. The relationship between Christine and Heed is fascinating as we watch its dynamics and balance of power change...and then change again. Just because women take center stage in LOVE, this is not to say that men are absent from the book. They aren't. Conspicuously present are Sandler, an employee of Cosey's and Romen, a local boy who forms a none-too-healthy bond with Junior, a most unlikely girl. And, most present of all, is Cosey, himself...in one form or another. While relationships form the core of LOVE, there is an interesting subplot concerning Cosey's will, which was drunkenly scrawled on a menu. The will is ambiguous...open to individual interpretation...and the women in Cosey's life do interpret it quite differently, indeed. It is the dispute over the will that drives the physical plot of LOVE. As the 'house that Cosey built' crumbles like a house of cards, Heed's, Christine's and May's vulnerabilities are exposed, as are the long dead Cosey's. The women still have time to reshape their shattered lives, to share their communal pain and untangle the puzzle imposed on them by Cosey, but will they? You'll have to read the book to find out; any hint of the resolution here would be destructive. Like all of Toni Morrison's novels, LOVE is filled with holes and spaces...gaps and silences for the reader to fill in. Almost more than any other author, Morrison requires that her readers participate in the growth of the novel with her. I like this aspect of this brilliant writer and commend her for it. Also present in the narrative are 'trademark' Morrison time shifts, flashbacks, and changing points of view. Some readers may be confused by LOVE'S sophisticated structure, but I found myself enthralled. LOVE is certainly not a romance, but it is a book about love, or, more precisely, about the destructive power of love and about the psychic injuries and scars that we accrue when love is absent from our lives. LOVE is rich and dense and deep and sensual. It's a lyrical, poetic work that you'll want to read once for the story and then again, simply for the language. I think it's Toni Morrison's masterpiece...
No wonder Toni Morrison is a Nobel Prize winner and a very readable one. Love is a great book: the story, the characters, the way it is told. At times, shocking but quite enjoyable nonetheless. This one is for my permanent library. Wonderful, surprising reading.
A great read
Morrison is back! Great story and very typical Morrison. Loved the twists and turns and thought the story was touching, loving, and scary. Such a simple story with such a rich back drop. Everything was relevant, even the most minute of details. Bravo, Morrison!