Because each had discovered years before that they were neither white nor male, and that all freedom and triumph was forbidden to them, they had set about creating something else to be.
this one gets 4 “please don’t hit me again, sula!” stars.
and honestly, for more than half of it, it was leaning towards 5 stars, and not just because of stockholm syndrome.
i have never read toni morrison before. her name was at the top of my “authors i have never read, much to my great personal shame” list along with tolstoy, balzac, alice munro, etc. and before this book, my impression of her was that she was a very rigidly literary american author who wrote important books about important themes that were technically masterful, but took themselves very seriously and were probably not much fun to read.
that is not the case with this one, at least.
right from the get-go, i was smitten. it was all the things i loved – it was Winesburg, Ohio, it was grit lit, it was smalltown gossip and neighborly scrutiny, it was the ingenuity of the disenfranchised, it was the sun rising like a hot white bitch, and best of all, it was FUN! but, like, my kind of fun, where people get set on fire and playtime ends in a body count. this is v.c. andrews without the incest!
and now i understand why this book kept injuring me – Sula does NOT play nice. it is a rough book full of rough things too potent to be contained between the covers of the book itself. or maybe the book was just trying to get my attention because it knew i would like it so much. either way, it was worth the price of a few battle scars marking me like sula herself, whose birthmark gives her face a broken excitement.
to me, this book was absolute perfection when it was focused on the childhood friendship of sula and nel, but it lost something once they grew up. which is a shame, because the childhood parts were SO GOOD. she writes the intensity of nel and sula’s intertwining perfectly:
They never quarreled, those two, the way some girlfriends did over boys, or competed against each other for them. In those days, a compliment to one was a compliment to the other, and cruelty to one was a challenge to the other.
and she captures that transition from girlhood to half-understood sexuality wonderfully:
It was in that summer, the summer of their twelfth year, the summer of the beautiful black boys, that they became skittish, frightened and bold – all at the same time.
although i do have to say, her overreliance on the word “beautiful” as a descriptor for men and boys is grating. eeeevery man is beautiful, which is statistically improbable, and it’s also lazy wordsmithing in someone who has proven herself to be much better than that.
but back to the sexxy bits, because you know i’m not into romance or erotica unless it involves all the hilarious ways a human can copulate with a monster or a tater tot or something like that. but human-on-human gyrations tend to leave me cold. however, while it doesn’t involve actual intercourse, her descriptions of sula and nel at twelve, wishbone thin and easy-assed, walking to the ice cream store through the gauntlet of men who are themselves passing the time sitting on stoops watching women walk by, through this valley of eyes chilled by the wind and heated by the embarrassment of appraising stares, knowing and not-knowing their effect, delighted and ashamed all at once, and despite the fact that it’s totally gross to call a situation in which men in their twenties up through to elderly gentlemen are ogling twelve-year-old girls “hot,” still, there’s something here that worked on me the way no fifty shades of story of o has, and it comes from the perspective of the girls themselves, and the mysteries of what they have yet to experience:
It was not really Edna Finch’s ice cream that made them brave the stretch of those panther eyes. Years later their own eyes would glaze as they cupped their chins in remembrance of the inchworm smiles, the squatting haunches, the track-rail legs straddling broken chairs. The cream-colored trousers marking with a mere seam the place where the mystery curled. Those smooth vanilla crotches invited them; those lemon-yellow gabardines beckoned to them.
They moved toward the ice-cream parlor like tightrope walkers, as thrilled by the possibility of a slip as by the maintenance of tension and balance. The least sideways glance, the merest toe stub, could pitch them into those creamy haunches spread wide with welcome. Somewhere beneath all of that daintiness, chambered in all that neatness, lay the thing that clotted their dreams.
so you see why i’m frustrated by her repetition of “beautiful” when she can pull off such superior writing. even her descriptions of nature become erotic, although this passage has more of that b-word gumming up the works:
Then summer came. A summer limp with the weight of blossomed things. Heavy sunflowers weeping over fences; iris curling and browning at the edges far away from their purple hearts; ears of corn letting their auburn hair wind down to their stalks. 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.
very saucy stuff, that.
so, yeah – i really loved this book. i loved the final third less than the beginning, because i didn’t really understand what i was meant to be getting out of the story’s turn, but it was still excellent writing, and it closed very nicely, so it’s an easy four
stars cats, and immunity granted for all injuries sustained.
okay, i finished the book. if it lets me live long enough, i will review it soon.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: A SECOND ASSAULT UPON MY PERSON BY THIS BOOK:
okay, so here’s something weird. i started this book yesterday, and read several chapters just before bed. when i woke up, i had this gigantic bruise on my eyelid:
i have no memory of any trauma to my eye (and i am eye-attack-phobic, so i’d remember) and i wear my glasses all day, which protects me from such trauma. the only way this could have happened would have been when my glasses were off, while i was asleep. when my glasses were off, while i was asleep, WITH THIS BOOK NEXT TO ME IN BED.
seriously, sula – what’s your beef with me?
although i gotta say, i like how it makes me look like i’m wearing fancy new wave eyeshadow.
the final book in my quarterly literary box:
here’s the story with me and sula. long ago, when i was working at barnes and noble and we hosted the new yorker festival every year, i was in the back room on the fourth floor, gathering books to restock the festival displays. while i was grabbing books from a shelf far above my head with my monkey-arms, a hardcover copy of sula slipped from the stack and its very solid lower spine-corner hit me right in the center of my skull with all the force of gravity and book-malice behind it. naturally, i yelled “FUCK YOU, SULA,” and naturally i vowed never to read that book, ever. but then this box-thing happened, and now i have to read it, regardless of the abuse i have suffered at its hands. fortunately, this is a paperback, and it is not as tough as its momma. i remain vigilant – i could still get papercuts, after all…