Toni Morrison

Book cover

Like too many people, I only got around to picking up one of Morrison’s novels when she died, which is a shame. (Actually, I had checked out Beloved from the library earlier in the year, but didn’t end up reading it because I got a bunch of other books at the same time and had to return it.) I felt most interested in Beloved but got this instead when the former wasn’t available at the library.

I got enough out of it to feel interested in reading another TM book, but ultimately wasn’t that into the book itself. On the plus side, I did enjoy TM’s writing style. She walks the line very well between spare and overwritten–her descriptions are thoughtful and original, but still blend into the background of the story without announcing themselves. Many scenes in the book are quite memorable–in particular the early scene where young Nel meets her grandmother Rochelle in New Orleans. Yet I felt like later in the book, character development was sacrificed in the service of formalism. The core contrast of the story is between Nel, who lives a life as expected (not leaving town, settling down and raising a family), and Sula, who lives a more daring and original life (leaving town for college, not getting married and having casual romantic liaisons). Yet we see literally nothing of the critical 10-year period of development in Sula’s life when she is away from town. So when she returns to the Bottom, we just have to accept that the experience changed her. Indeed, I found the nihilist attitude that Sula expresses upon her return, and in particular her willingness to be hurtful to Nel, to be out of character based on what we previously know of her–not that she couldn’t have changed in that way in the course of ten years, but that such formative events shouldn’t just be passed over in silence.

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars