A black patriarch’s obsessive domination of the many women in his life is relentlessly scrutinized in the 1993 Nobel winner’s intricately patterned eighth novel.
An opening monologue spoken by an unidentified elderly woman reminisces about the once-vibrant, now-defunct Florida Hotel and Resort (a “playground” for affluent black people) owned by the late Bill Cosey: a rags-to-riches millionaire revered for his benevolence and his ability to attract and possess beautiful women. We’re soon introduced to Junior Viviane, a runaway and reform-school veteran who answers an ad for a “Companion, Secretary” placed by Cosey’s (much younger) widow Heed (born, wretchedly poor, as Heed the Night Johnson). Then, in a gorgeous deployment of enigmatic flashbacks, Morrison focuses in turn on elderly May Cosey, the widow of Cosey’s son Billy Boy; May’s daughter Christine, the old man’s only surviving blood relative, who had fled the Resort and forfeited her birthright; and the silent, judging presence who has observed them all: Cosey’s legendary chef, known only as L. As Junior expertly seduces Romen, the adolescent grandson of Sandler and Vida Gibbons (both of whom had been employed by Cosey), Christine’s rage, May’s paranoid fear of racial unrest as a threat to her security (“for years, she hoarded and buried, and preserved and stole”), and the frail heed’s stranglehold on the Cosey property and history, all meld, as the novel’s climactic events deepen the enigma of Cosey (who’s present only in retrospect): a fructifying paternal figure, and perhaps also an unconscionable predator (or, as L. wryly concludes, “an ordinary man ripped, like the rest of us, by wrath and love”). Incorporating elements from earlier Morrison novels (notably Jazz, Paradise, and Sula), Love is an elegantly shaped epic of infatuation, enslavement, and liberation: a rich symbolic mystery that grows steadily more eloquent and disturbing as its meanings clarify and grip the reader.
One of Morrison’s finest, and a heartening return to Nobel–worthy form.