Readers perplexed by Toni Morrison's lengthy seventh novel, Paradise, will find her new one more to their liking. Titled Love, the book succeeds both as an entertainment and a moral tale. Bill Cosey, the charismatic Gatsby-like figure at its center, attracts many women. In the end, Morrison allows the reader to see him clearly, through the eyes of the only two who understood him a "sporting woman" named Celestial and a hotel cook called "L." Love begins and ends with L's narrative. Now an old woman embarrassed by the world rappers inhabit, L thinks back 40 years to "when Cosey's Hotel was the best and best-known vacation spot for colored folk on the East Coast" and the upper classes came from as far away as Michigan and New York for the dance music, the starlit ocean, the ambience.
Morrison next shifts the point of view to follow Junior Viviane, a sexy young stranger in a too-short skirt. Readers go with her to the house of the two hate-filled old Cosey women. One is Christine, Bill Cosey's well-educated granddaughter; the other is Heed (short for Heed the Night), a low-class girl he bought to marry when she was 11. As old women they despise each other, but in childhood they were close. Heed hires Junior as her ally against Christine.
The secrets of the past permeate this story like the heavy sweet scent of southern citrus flowers. All six women in the novel once idealized Bill Cosey as father or husband or guardian or friend whatever their desperate need.
Sandler Gibbons, a man who knew Cosey better than most, acts as a moral center for the novel. How do you know people? By what they do, he says. Gibbons passes his wisdom on to his teenaged grandson, Romen, pointing out that the boy isn't helpless in the face of evil.
In this beautifully told tale, the author prompts readers to value moral choices, yet never to discount the power of love or temptation. <I>Anne Morris is a reviewer from Austin, Texas.</I>