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Toni Morrison's Beloved: A Casebook.

William L. Andrews and Nellie Y. McKay, eds. Toni Morrison's Beloved: A Casebook, New York: Oxford UP, 1999. 223 pp. $35.00.

Andrews and McKay offer in this volume scholarship on BeloVed by some of the most respected and prominent critics today in African American and contemporary literature, including essays by Ashraf Rushdy, Karla F. C. Holloway, Mae G. Henderson, Linda Krumholz, Trudier Harris, Lori Askeland, and Rafael Perez-Torres, as well as a concluding "conversation" among Barbara Christian, Deborah McDowell, and Nellie McKay. The volume also provides some historical context for the novel by reprinting Frances Ellen Watkins Harper's poem "The Slave Mother" and also Samuel J. May's 1856 account of and commentary on Margaret Garner's murder of her young daughter (the historical moment that serves as the impetus for the novel). A thirty-five-item bibliography of suggested readings follows the selections and is current through 1997. The volume admirably meets its goal as stated by McKay in the introduction: "to present teachers and scholars with a small group of essays that not only are worthy of inclusion but also that addres s some of the issues that readers often raise about the book. We believe they will be valuable to those who teach or write about the novel."

Several of the essays are absolutely essential to the critical tradition being established on the novel: Henderson's 1991 contribution to Hortense J. Spillers's collection Comparative American Identities: Race, Sex, and Nationality in the Modern Text, fusing psychoanalysis and historiography; Krumholz's 1992 African American Review article, incorporating an African understanding of healing and recovery of history; Harris's chapter from her 1991 book Fiction and Folklore: The Novels of Toni Morrison, delineating the folk roots of the novel; Askeland's 1992 essay from American Literature, offering an original reading of Morrison's remodeling of the patriarchal home in relation to Uncle Tom's Cabin; and Perez-Torres's revision of his 1993 Modern Fiction Studies essay, charting the novel's enlarging of postmodernism. One might notice from this list, however, the narrow range of years these selections span. With the delays of journal publishing, one could not expect essays from much earlier than 1990, but one mig ht hope to see some scholarship after 1993 in a volume published in 1999.

The focus of the selections ranges from history, psychoanalysis, and folk practices to the architecture of domestic ideology, postmodernism, and mother love in Morrison's work. Roughly half of the essays traverse psychoanalytic ground, a repetition that is perhaps to be expected given the novel's emphasis on remembering and healing wounds. Likewise, history, specifically historiography, dominates three of the critical selections, again understandably. There is a fair amount of overlap between Henderson's and Krumholz's essays, although both are quite fine and make their own contributions. Perhaps some other, more recent essays (such as ones by Peter Berger, Linda Koolish, and William Handley) might have broadened the range of subject matter.

The volume will provide scholars a very important compendium of key early essays in the critical response to Beloved. With only a few exceptions (Harris and Askeland, the "conversation" among Christian, McDowell, and McKay, and perhaps Krumholz), the collection is not accessible to the average undergraduate student or reader unschooled in the critical vocabularies of psychoanalysis, post-structuralism, and post-modernism. But it is an excellent collection for the rest of us.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Pereira, Malin
Publication:African American Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 2000
Words:550
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