Monday, July 27, 2020

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

After reading Tar Baby earlier this year and enjoying it as well as I did, I was less intimidated to start Song Of Solomon which I’ve had on the shelf for nearly as long. I don’t know what made me wait on these. When I read Beloved, Sula, and The Bluest Eye I really enjoyed them, especially Beloved. For some reason I had the idea in mind that the two I read this year were going to be academic exercises that I should like for political reasons but that would be dry and boring. I had no excuse. I repeat, I enjoyed the three books I read by her in the early 2010’s. But these are vital books, political, yes, angry, yes, but also alive and compelling. I really liked Tar Baby, but Song of Solomon is a flat out masterpiece. I need to reread Beloved, but if I can trust a roughly decade old memory of it, it’s the only of the five of her books I’ve read that is this good.

The novel begins on the eve of Macon “Milkman” Dead’s birth*, as an insurance salesman, believing he can fly, leaps from the roof of the hospital on Not Doctor Street. Milkman is the first black baby delivered in that hospital. His mother is the daughter of a prominent doctor. Milkman’s father is domineering. His aunt runs a wine house. His best friend Guitar subscribes to an angrier and more violent approach to life and justice. Milkman is adrift. His family history is a mystery, and he lacks motivation. He grows up during the Civil Rights period, but is disconnected from that movement. His family life and eventual quest to understand his family history and struggle to come to terms with his own displacement drive the action of the book.

While almost everything in the book could actually happen, the mood is phantasmagorical. It feels like a dark fantasy. The mood is horror adjacent. Morrison’s language is great, of course. And she wields it here in service of a compulsively, angry and moving story. I cannot recommend this highly enough.

Canon Worthy

Owned But Previously Unread 2020 52/75

*Morrison has a gift for character names; his aunt is named Pilate, and one of his sisters is named First Corinthians

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