Book review: ‘Miss Chloe’ is a book for the true Toni Morrison fan | Way of life

One hundred sixty-three.

It’s the number of friends you have on social media and you know most of them in one way or another. There are co-workers on your list, cousins, friends, and a guy you don’t really remember meeting. You have all connected in one way or another and count them as friends or more. As in the new memoir, “Miss Chloe” by AJ Verdelle, keeping up with them is always worth it.

When her first novel was in its final stages before its release, AJ Verdelle sent some precious copies to reliable sources, and one of them went to a place she didn’t expect: the author Toni Morrison got it and said publicly that she liked the book.

For Verdelle, it was one of those high points in life. She grew up reading Morrison’s work – sometimes at a “too early” age – and knowing that her idol was reading her book was more than Verdelle could dream of.

Even better, this chance encounter with a book turned into a friendship.

The great author encouraged Verdelle in his writing career and they shared a deep love of the language, often laughing at puns. Morrison had worked in a library when she was young; Verdelle had worked in a library and she was a teacher at Princeton. Morrison helped Verdelle understand how best to mentor his students at Princeton; this too, and their love of books, allowed the two women to bond.

Over the years, they have shared lunches, dinners and “events in his honor”. They spoke “freely” about “black people, black women and black history and how we plotted, planned and succeeded in moving forward”.

And yet, their relationship was not without problems. There were “two and a half spats,” Verdelle says, perhaps because Morrison could be cold, mean, overly opinionated, eager and demanding.

“You had to know Morrison’s work as a whole to be his friend,” Verdelle said. “She would squint at you and fire you if you got lame. She was demanding. She had high standards. She did not suffer from fools.

Based on the affectionate name that author AJ Verdelle called Toni Morrison due to Morrison’s birth name, “Miss Chloe” is a fan book, pure and simple. It’s beautifully written, a love letter to a friendship and to books and to reading, and it’s a wonderful insight into the lives of two writers – one, up-and-coming; one, unfortunately, disappeared.

And yet, its reading is not without difficulties.

The three facets that make this book so good also make it hard to remember. Verdelle’s words are punchy and graceful, but her narrative tends to wander for a moment before coming back to an individual point, which can be shocking. As for friendship, Verdelle is a little too eager to praise hers with Morrison, even when Morrison was mean to her.

Overall, “Miss Chloe” is aimed primarily at Morrison fans, and it will likely appeal to some writers, especially those writing black women’s fiction. For anyone who isn’t very interested in these things, this is a checkered book.

“Miss Chloe: A Memoir of a Literary Friendship with Toni Morrison” by AJ Verdelle

circa 2022, Amistad $27.99 360 pages

Angela C. Hale