asher63 (asher63) wrote,

A Sweet Tooth for Pain: 'Jazz' by Toni Morrison

I know that woman.

In jazz-age Harlem, in the winter of 1925-26, an obsessive love triangle leads to murder, madness - and ultimately redemption.

'Jazz' is Toni Morrison's sixth novel, first published in 1992 and following the critical and popular success of 'Beloved'. Like 'Beloved', the story is haunted by a ghost - not the literal ghost of a baby, but the memory of a seventeen-year-old girl. In the 2004 foreword, TM writes that the inspiration for the story came from a James Van Der Zee photograph of a pretty girl in a coffin, and from the discovery of a trunk filled with her mother's memorabilia from her own youth.

I think writing about the period around when you first came into the world must be one of the hardest things. So hard to separate historical fact from your own fanciful childhood memories of a world you scarcely understand, and hearsay told to you by adults and tailored to your understanding. So hard to fill in the spaces, with accuracy and confidence, in that twilight zone of memory.

And in fact the narrative timeline of Morrison's second novel, 'Sula', skips a whole ten-year period (from 1927 to 1937) bracketing the time of the author's own birth in 1931. But now, in 'Jazz', the writer is ready to step into, and fully inhabit, her mother's world.

The narrative voice of 'Jazz' is unique and mysterious: an omniscient first-person narrator who frequently addresses the reader directly. In the foreword, TM writes that the book's style was born of frustration - and of a moment of epiphany and liberation.

The story of Joe, Violet, and Dorcas unfolds at a deliberate pace. All the forces of family love, loss, violence, prejudice, passion, and forgiveness that shape the characters and their relationships are told, bit by bit, in Morrison's spellbinding prose.

In its final pages, the writing is perhaps some of Morrison's most explicitly spiritual. Dorcas' last words remained with me long after I put the book down, as did the closing words of the lonely and disembodied narrator. I get the feeling that it is not only the characters' creator who is speaking, but ours as well.

There is only one apple. ...

I have watched your face for a long time now, and missed your eyes when you went away from me.
Tags: toni morrison

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