Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I don't know why I was worried to read Toni Morrison, but I've always been hesitant to pick up any of her books. Perhaps the worry stemmed from an idea, deep rooted, that I wouldn't like it. That happens often when I pick up something deemed as "classical fiction." They are so much work, often, that I end up not enjoying the book and not even finishing the book.
But now, I am a Morrison convert. Song of Solomon is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. I won't go into a long detailed summary of the plot, you can find that elsewhere. I will just discuss what I loved about this piece of literature.
This book was not work, it was joy. Even though there isn't much to the plot, I was entirely engrossed in the characters and their plight. These are well-fleshed out people that live and breath on a plane not entirely unlike our own. There weren't any of the fantastical trappings that are often required to hold my interest, or a break-neck-speed plot. This book burned slow and bright. The characters are entirely normal and completely foreign all at the same time. I loved Milkman, Ruth, First Corinthians, Pilate, Hagar, Guitar; they are real people and I've lived among them.
Morrison strums the symbolic harp within this work. She understands how powerful symbols and names can be and utilizes that to its utmost benefit. I am looking forward to discussing the novel with my AP Literature students next year, when a group chooses this as their Individual Choice Winter Reading Assignment. I am excited to try some ideas out on other people.
The novel is a bildungsroman, although it doesn't feel like a traditional coming-of-age novel. Milkman does indeed go on a journey, in which he learns about himself and his family, but he is tricked into going. He isn't departing on this journey to better himself internally: to open his mind and heart. Instead, Milkman is going to purely greedy and physical reasons: he wants money. But on this journey, he learns so much and becomes a man. That is why is is so devastating at the end. He just came to understand himself and his place in the world and...
Morrison's style is reminiscent of Faulkner or McCarthy. Long, descriptive sentences paint this novel with their image heavy splatter. Her diction is strange and lyrical. Beautiful descriptions abound. But, I wasn't the biggest fan of he times when Morrison would step into consciousness. At times it made the reading difficult to follow and there were times when I felt that I had missed some crucial details. That one little nit-pick is not enough to lose a star for this book though. It is indeed that good.
I will most certainly be visiting the worlds of Morrison again in the future. She has trampoline'd into my favorite author list. And to think that I at one time was afraid of her work. How naive and foolish I was.
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