Dear Readers,

I now consider this blog to be my Juvenelia. Have fun perusing the archives, and find me at my new haunt, here.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Toni Morrison's Sula

Toni Morrison is as talented a writer as there is, if not the single most talented out there right now. Beloved is obviously a total masterpiece; I've read it three times now and get more out of it every single time, I still go back to read pages again because I feel that I haven't absorbed enough of her deeply-woven prose. Certain phrases from that novel haunt me like lines of poetry or bars from a song.

And as I've thought about all the gender/race issues in the blogosphere due to the election, it made me turn back to Morrison because she is so wonderful at describing the unique pain--and pride--that she feels are part and parcel being a black woman in America, an experience art can get us closer to understanding than anything else (although we can never truly understand each other's oppressions, obv).

Morrison's approach to race is fascinating--it's not the explicit subject of her novels but it is everywhere laced through them, both in subtle little pieces here and there and in her overarching themes. To read her books is to feel the heaviness of struggling to be personally free in a land that robs you of freedom. But these novels are also, almost always, about womanhood: specifically, sisterhood, sex and motherhood.

Sula, my fourth Morrison novel, is now is actually a great starting point for those who haven't read much of her work or are intimidated by the density of her writing. The plot itself seems rather pat, but the way it is told makes it quite unforgettable.

It's the story of two friends, Sula and Nel, who grow up entwined "as one" in town, the daughters of wildly different mothers. They end up witness to a variety of tragedy--the kind of brutal, violent tragedy that haunts towns like theirs, poor, segregated, at the mercy of white neighbors--and it both brings them together and tears them apart. Ultimately, society's rules, and the intrusion men, stand in the way of the perfect feminine union they had when they were younger. Morrison's take on what this all means is reserved for the final, heartwrenching page of this very brief novel, and I was surprised at how emotional it made me as I closed the book at last, on the subway. The town, Medallion, and the neighborhood, "The Bottom" with its assorted eccentric but poignant characters, felt frighteningly real, and so do the magic, signs and omens that Morrison works into her novels so deftly.

It was a gorgeous, affecting read, and now that I finished it and was so affected by it, I feel braver and more inclined to read Jazz, which struck me as more challenging (it's written to the "rhythm" of jazz music).
I also need to re-read The Bluest Eye, which I haven't read since sophomore year i high school and probably didn't "get" as much as I might now.


  1. I love Sula. I'd like to say more, but I think you're trying not to give the book away.

  2. I read that book my senior year of high school; initially, it was supposed to be my AP book and I was going to write an essay on it, but I hadn't yet discovered feminism and as a white girl from a military family who grew up in the Midwest, I didn't have the language to discuss what that book made me think about.

    I kinda want to reread it and write that essay now.