Friday, September 13, 2019

Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon (1977)

I was wondering, somewhat guiltily: is this really the first book I've ever read by a black female author? And then I remembered, no, there's Their Eyes Were Watching God. But somehow, the fact that I've read one other almost makes it worse--like, it really emphasizes the limits of my reading. The same way having a single person sitting in an auditorium for an event makes it seem more deserted than if literally no one was there. I mean, there's no point in denying it: ethnic and gender diversity is a real weak spot in my reading habits. I'm honestly not sure I'm actually going to do anything about that, but it's still to be deplored.

I chose this out of all Morrison novels because back in college, I had a class in the modern novel with this very prickly, intimidating professor, and--who can remember why?--this novel came up, just in passing, and he commented on how great he thought it was. So there you go.

The main character is named Milkman Dead (the oddity of which is, naturally, explicated in the text) (and which may be where the Dead Milkmen got their name), from a wealthy black family mid-century. It's basically a Bildungsroman where he has to come to terms with his heritage and the fact that he kind of exists in a liminal space, on the one hand living in luxury with no material wants but on the other hand being a black man in a profoundly racist society. The book surprised me, though, by existing in what I guess you'd call a very subtly heightened level of reality. Comparatively few Bildungsromans (I kind of want to write "Bildungses roman") featuring hunts for lost gold, let alone secret murder clubs.

There's some beautiful writing here; Morrison's talent is not in doubt. However, I have to ask a question that would make any right-winger reading this call me a soyboy beta cuck who's been so thoroughly whipped and castrated by feminist sjws that he's afraid to venture a politically incorrect opinion, which...well, fair enough. But the question is this: does the fact that I didn't like this book more than I did make me a racist?

I mean, it's a real concern. Because I don't feel like my problems with it were racially-based, but it's so difficult to untangle your unconscious prejudices. I dunno. All I can say is, I thought this was generally well-done and intriguing in the early going, but it sort of...well, not falls apart, exactly, but let's say doesn't execute as well as you might hope in the end-game. There's this business where Milkman is sort of rediscovering his roots and learning about the barriers that he's put between himself and his people, culminating in this hunting trip where he learns to be One of the Guys, and it just struck me as so clumsily executed and not particularly convincing. We also have this Faulkner-esque stuff where he learns about his anscestors and things, and Morrison mixes it all up with a certain amount of African folklore puts all this symbolic weight on it and tries to endow it with a profundity that I don't feel like it remotely earned. And then the ending is just irritating in its predictable ambiguity.

Look: on a pure writing level, I had no problems here; it's all very good with a few breathtaking passages. But...I dunno, man. I probably ought to read some more of Morrison (there was at least one goodreads review from a fan who thought that this was one of her weaker efforts, which gives me at least a little hope that I'm not just being a jerk), but--UGH. I mean, obviously, I decided to read this because of her passing, and I fully expected one of those "why didn't I read this earlier, idiot me?" situations, and then to have the reaction I had...not great.


Post a Comment

<< Home