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McGowan, T. (2018). Love and Narrative Form in Toni Morrison's Later Novels. Jean Wyatt. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2017. 248 pp. Am. Imago, 75(1):114-118.

(2018). American Imago, 75(1):114-118

Love and Narrative Form in Toni Morrison's Later Novels. Jean Wyatt. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2017. 248 pp

Review by:
Todd McGowan

There is no shortage of critical attention directed at Toni Morrison's novels, but this critical attention has seldom invoked psychoanalytic theory. The one conspicuous exception to this truism among Morrison's critics is Jean Wyatt, the author of the most important essay on Morrison's most important novel—“Giving Body to the Word: The Maternal Symbolic in Toni Morrison's Beloved(1993). In her new book Love and Narrative Form in Toni Morrison's Later Novels, Wyatt has returned to the conjunction of psychoanalytic theory and Morrison's novels with a most welcome result. Not only does Wyatt advance the cause of understanding Toni Morrison with this book, but she also shows how Morrison's novels themselves function as the source for psychoanalytic revelations.

The theoretical point of departure for Wyatt in this work is Jean Laplanche. Taking up Laplanche's understanding of Nachträglichkeit (which Wyatt translates as afterwardsness and which others have rendered as belatedness), as well as his concept of the enigmatic signifier, Wyatt shows us a Toni Morrison who sheds new light on the relationship between trauma and love and who provides an alternative way of thinking about community, one compatible with psychoanalytic theory despite its inherent suspicion of the possibility of subjects coexisting together.

The premise of Love and Narrative Form in Toni Morrison's Later Novels is that a major shift occurs in Morrison's literary career with the publication of Beloved. Almost universally acclaimed as Morrison's greatest novel, Beloved reveals the historical trauma of slavery as a fundamental barrier whose distorting power never ebbs. Slavery inserts itself within the dynamic of the mother and child, with the result that this relationship suffers from either a traumatic break or from an over-proximity deriving from the attempt to compensate for this break. Once slavery enters into the maternal equation, there is no way out.


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