Book Review: Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon

I am certain that there are people who have read Toni Morrison who do not like her. Song of Solomon is the fourth Morrison book I’ve read, and just having finished it, I am just as certain that I cannot even fathom what such a person would be like. A moody high school student who is completely uninterested in good story telling? Maybe an overly insecure college student who doesn’t like being required to suspend and question their individual outlook? I really have no idea.

If you have not read Song of Solomon, do yourself and immense favor and pick it up. Morrison is a grand master of literature. Her plot. Her character development. Her descriptions of places, times, and events. The sheer imaginative force behind Song of Solomon is truly awe-inspiring. There were so many passages I needed space to process because they were so clever, so intelligent, so easy, and so compact. How many other people can write like this? And that’s not even touching the radical political implications of creating a work that values, captures, and humanizes whole sections of society that the mainstream has denigrated and written off.

Song of Solomon tells the coming-of-age story of Macon “Milkman” Dead and the larger story of the Dead family. I personally found this book to start a little slow, but by the end I realized it was the deliberate pacing of the literary equivalent to the outside end of a golden spiral. Don’t get me wrong, the plot is compelling—there’s the suspicion of incest, social climbing, threats of murder, and a search for treasure. I actually found myself having to reread paragraphs because I was so eager to find out what happened next, I was barely processing what I read. But by the time I finished this book, the plot seemed incidental. I was left thinking about love, family, hurt, interconnectedness, history, and possibility. That I ended up with abstract concepts is one of the signatures of a great artist, because concepts last. They shape us more subtly, but also more concretely than plot alone.

Hats off to Toni Morrison, a master of her craft.

 

Bottom line: Pick up any book by Toni Morrison and you’re already holding a winner.

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