Kara Walker Didn’t Like Toni Morrison’s New Book, ‘God Help The Child’


Kara Walker.


The New York Times solicited artist Kara Walker (creator of last year’s now-iconic Domino Sugar Factory sugar sphinx) to review Toni Morrison’s latest work of fiction, God Help The Child—in Walker’s words, “a brisk modern-day fairy tale with shades of the Brothers Grimm.”

Walker doles out occasional praise, though mostly only to mitigate the harshness of her critique with nostalgia for Morrison’s earlier work: “Toni Morrison has always written for the ear, with a loving attention to the textures and sounds of words…every now and then, ‘God Help the Child’ steps away from moralizing and yields to the slow, tender, dangerous art of storytelling.”

Rather than acerbic and bitter, Walker’s tone comes across as more bewildered and disenchanted, which often translates as encouraging. (For example: “There are many other characters I’d also like to know more about, whose strategies and coping mechanisms and pleasures I wanted to understand, but the novel withholds so much information.”) She doesn’t eviscerate Morrison by any means, but she speaks honestly. Some choice quotes:

“In ‘God Help the Child’…we get clipped first-person confessionals and unusually vague landscapes…”

“The settings feel flat, the tone cynical. There are swirls of brutal personal histories, hurried vignettes and blatantly untrustworthy monologues.”

“The pity is that the book itself never struggles to answer the questions it poses…”

“Curiously, the abundance of first-person confessionals does little to invite actual intimacy. They reminded me of reality TV—thin declarations of trauma followed by triumphant dismissals of enduring hurt.”

“But too often we get a curt fable instead, one more interested in outrage than possibilities for empathy…I was left with the bitter supposition that childhood is the perfect condition to be manipulated by adult power because it is self-perpetuating.”

Walker ends her critique sweetly, though. You can read the full review, which was on the cover of the Book Review this past weekend, here.

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