"Solid, rumbling, likely to erupt without prior notice, Macon kept each member of his family awkward with fear. His hatred of his wife glittered and sparked in every word he spoke to her. The disappointment he felt in his daughters sifted down on them like ash, dulling their buttery complexions and chocking the lilt out of what should have been girlish voices. Under the frozen heat of his glance they tripped over doorsills and dropped the salt cellar into the yolks of their poached eggs. The way he mangled their grace, wit, and self-esteem was the single excitement of their days. Without the tension and drama he ignited, they might not have known what to do with themselves. In his absence his daughters bent their necks over blood-red squares of velvet and waited eagerly for any hint of him, and his wife, Ruth, began her days stunned into stillness by her husband's contempt and ended them wholly animated by it."
It is always reassuring to be reading a new book and find those passages which assure you that you are dealing with a master writer. I love so much of what is going on in his quote. You get an absolutely perfect description of this man; you can visualize him. You understand his personality. This is not a soft man, not a tender man. Macon Dead is harsh and controlling. The imagery of his hatred glittering and sparking and finally sifting down on his daughters like ash is evocative. It describes the idea perfectly. Then Morrison adds in some sarcasm, "Without the tension and drama he ignited, they might not have known what to do with themselves." I am confident that these young women would have been perfectly fine without their father lording over them. They would have found something to occupy their time. But this helps the reader to understand the control and Macon Dead has over his family. They need his permission to do things. They remain beholden to his demands.