Ms. Morrison is a person who gives you her full attention; who wants, even in the context of an interview, to have a conversation; who is entirely self-possessed without being the least bit self-obsessed; who is at every minute teaching, and at every minute eager to learn. She exudes a comfortable elegance, from the work of art that is her hair—masses of neat, identical dreadlocks, every color between black and white, pulled away from her face and braided into a kind of inverted fountain that falls down her back—to the delicate green and gold sandals. The occasion was the publication of her eighth novel, Love, which, like many of her other novels (Paradise, Jazz, Beloved, Sula) bears a one-word title. Love is built—"like a crystal," Ms. Morrison says—around two women, Christine and Heed, best childhood friends, whose relationship disintegrated because of the internal pressures of desegregation and the sexual shenanigans of one powerful man named Bill Cosey. Christine and Heed are old women when the novel begins, living in stalemated silence on separate floors of a dilapidated seaside resort when a young female con artist named Junior upends their lives.

"The idea of a wanton woman is something I have inserted into almost all of my books," Ms. Morrison said. "An outlaw figure who is disallowed in the community because of her imagination or activity or status—that kind of anarchic figure has always fascinated me. And the benefits they bring with them, in spite of the fact that they are either dismissed or upbraided—something about their presence is constructive in the long run. Sula, for instance, was someone the other characters missed terribly when she was gone, even though she was the pariah. In Love, Junior is a poor, rootless, free-floating young woman—a survivor, a manipulator, a hungry person—but she does create a space where people can come with their better selves."

She said she was alarmed when she realized the title of this book might be Love, but the fact of her alarm was so interesting to her, it kept her from dismissing the idea.

"It is easily the most empty cliché, the most useless word, and at the same time the most powerful human emotion—because hatred is involved in it, too. I thought if I removed the word from nearly every other place in the manuscript, it could become an earned word. If I could give the word, in my very modest way, its girth and its meaning and its terrible price and its clarity at the moment when that is all there is time for, then the title does work for me."


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