September 27th, 2015

Sunday morning: Reading Toni Morrison

Last night I finished 'God Help the Child', Toni Morrison's 11th and most recent novel. This marks the completion of my summer reading project of reading all eleven Toni Morrison novels, back-to-back, in order.

(Hey, it's not Sukkot yet - that's still summer, right?)

Next project is to read 'em all through AGAIN, in a detailed reading, and do a good write-up of each one. I will be posting them here and on Amazon reviews. I've already started back at the beginning of 'The Bluest Eye'.

My initial impressions of TM's novels overall:

Prose. Toni Morrison has been called a "lyrical novelist" so many times she's sick of hearing it herself. But really, it's true. Her prose is just stunning.

Character depth. With the exception of a few truly evil characters (Schoolteacher and his sons in 'Beloved', the psychopath in 'God Help the Child'), Toni Morrison's characters are complex individuals who are neither idealized heroes nor stereotyped villains. They are flesh-and-blood people with their greatnesses and their failings, just like the people we know in real life.

Veterans. Beginning with the figure of Shadrack in 'Sula', and most notably in the character of Frank Money in 'Home', military veterans pop up frequently in TM's novels, nearly always as sympathetic characters.

Men. Beginning with 'Song of Solomon', TM has written leading male characters with strength, confidence, and grace. (She writes that the death of her father freed her to confront the question, "What are the men you have known really like?") I never get the feeling that "this is a woman trying to imagine what it's like to live as a man."

Toni Morrison is an African-American writer and clearly the black experience is central to her writing. And if you're not black, you can learn a lot about black history and culture from reading Morrison, and that's a good thing. But that's not the only reason to read Toni Morrison (or anybody else), and her writing is never simply "about" being black in America. At the end of the day, it's just really good writing about people and life. You don't have to be English to appreciate Shakespeare and you don't have to be black to appreciate Toni Morrison.

There's lots more that I want to write, but I'll save it for later. Got to finish cleaning up, hit the gym, and get ready for Sukkot.