Return of Santitas #CBR4# Review 16: Sula by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison has been floating around in the back of my mind lately; my Smith friends and I were reminiscing about the depressing (yet wholly accurate!) speech she gave at our graduation, and shortly after that discussion this article appeared in New York Magazine.
So all of this Toni Toni Toni was going on and I decided to dive into the confusing and thematic depths of la Morrison. I have read some of her stuff–Paradise, Beloved, and I think Song of Solomon. Remember when Paradise came out and Oprah did a Book Club episode on it? They kept talking about how confusing it was and how they had to keep a chart of all the characters. Yikes.
I decided to ease into it with a short one: Sula, coming in at a breezy 174 pages in my edition. (of course the joy/pain of Toni Morrison is that you could read that wikipedia entry and know the entire plot of this novel, but the plot is so not the point. My brain already hurts).
Sula and Nel are young girls growing up in the black community of Bottom, Ohio–a fairly close-knit community. The girls come from very different home lives; Sula lives in a chaotic family headed by her grandmother Eva and her mother, Hannah, both of whom are quite eccentric and a little slutty. Nel’s home is the opposite: her mother keeps a tightly run, oppressively conventional home. Nel and Sula become best friends and eventually Sula grows up to leave Bottom to be eccentric and slutty, while Nel stays behind to be conventional and get married. Sula eventually returns to Bottom and shakes people’s shit up in various ways (by being eccentric and slutty, also by putting her cra-zay grandmother in a nursing home).
Wikipedia tells me that some literary scholars consider this a lesbian book because it’s about the closeness of two women. The book examines female roles, the societal constraints put on women and the punishment meted out for breaking those constraints. This was written over 30 years ago and frankly I don’t think there’s much in it that couldn’t be applied now. I include the racial stuff in that–obviously we don’t have segregated train cars anymore, but the general indifference among the public towards missing children of color, for example, remains the same.
Sula is short, but not exactly an easy read. Reading it for plot is a frustrating task because it’s so short yet so packed with events that are not fully explored. It’s Morrison’s second novel, and it could have easily have been a Paradise-style behemoth.
On to the next…