Sula

Sula, Sula, Sula.

Oh, Sula.

My heart ached reading Toni Morrison’s second novel.

In it, I saw shades of Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye (a personal favorite) and the melodrama of Douglas Sirk. Centered around the lives of two little girls in 1930s Ohio, Sula explores the power of friendship, betrayal, and perception. Upstanding, obedient Nel and wild child Sula have the kind of friendship that seems to only exist between children. They are inseparable. They complete each other. They are a force. And soon, they are bonded even more closely by a terrible secret.

Not content to stay in their aptly named home, The Bottom, grownup Sula makes a break for it as soon as she can. When she finally returns, Nel is married with kids of her own and their happy reunion is marred by a betrayal that threatens to end their friendship forever.

Having read Beloved and The Bluest Eye in high school, I almost wonder if Sula might be the better introduction to Toni Morrison. Less epic than Beloved, quicker than The Bluest Eye, I could see how Sula would be more palatable. But then as soon as I think that, I remember the weight of it and feel baffled that any high schooler reads any Morrison at all.

She’s one of those rare authors who just feels prolific in everything she creates. Sula is a short book, but in just 174 pages, Morrison is talking about all of America and the black experience and what it means to be a woman and the very nature of good and evil. I am bowled over by her scope.

I was easily sucked in by her beautiful writing, too. The beauty just brought the whole world alive for me, even with the smallest details, like:

“When Eva spoke at last it was with two voices. Like two people were talking at the same time, saying the same thing, one a fraction of a second behind the other.”

or:

“Then summer came. A summer limp with the weight of blossomed things. . . . And the boys. The beautiful, beautiful boys who dotted the landscape like jewels, split the air with their shouts in the field, and thickened the river with their shining wet backs. Even their footsteps left a smell of smoke behind.”

But what struck me the most wasn’t any one phrase or passage, but a thought.

It occurred to me midway through the book how essential race is to any piece of realistic fiction about African Americans. I know, I know—not exactly earth shattering stuff. But in that thought, I was hit by another and I think it was the first time I really understood the privilege I have. A book that reflects my experience has the luxury of ignoring race if it wants to. Morrison doesn’t have that luxury. For a book to attempt to reflect her experiences but to leave out race would be to cut out a part of her. It’s one of those forces with the power to shape everything. And while I know this, I don’t think it had ever completely sunk in before.

With that, I already had my first concrete sign of my experiment doing its job. Hearing different voices had me not just thinking, but opening up my mind to something I thought I already knew.

Though I wouldn’t put it on the same level as Beloved, Sula was too quick and too satisfying not to recommend. It had me looking forward to reading the entire rest of her bibliography. Whether it’s your first Morrison or your fifth, it’s worth it.

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Happy Birthday, Reviews for No One!

Almost a full week late, but I still wanted to take a minute to celebrate this blog’s first birthday.

I can’t believe I’ve kept this thing going for a whole year already. I even kept to my schedule (not that it was ever a rigorous one, but still). I feel like I read more than ever and that reading came back into being part of who I am in a way it hadn’t been for a long time.

I was a born book lover. Some of my earliest memories? I remember being annoyed with other kids by age 6 for not reading well enough. And hiding encyclopedias under my pillow because I thought I’d get smarter that way. And the day I was taken aside by the librarian and shown where the chapter books were ahead of everyone else in my class.

But I lost some of that on the way through school. By college, I stopped reading for fun almost completely. It wasn’t until I was commuting to work by train that I fell back into a rhythm, and it wasn’t until this blog that I felt like my books were part of me again.

Reviews for No One is a real achievement for me.

It’s the first time I ever tried to take my blogging even a little bit seriously. I’m still finding my voice, and I’m still working on making enough time to write and revise, but I’m really proud of what I’ve done here so far. Even if all I’ve done is find part of me.

As always, I’ll keep reading and I’ll keep trying to make things interesting for you. And hopefully I’ll keep getting better at both.

Happy reading!

-S