sula – toni morrison

Rating: 5/5 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

“They relaxed slowly until during the walk back home their fingers were laced in as gentle a clasp as that of any two young girlfriends trotting up the road on a summer day wondering what happened to butterflies in the winter.”

This review has been the hardest to write yet, because I am simultaneously at a loss for words and have too many incoherent things that I just want to blurt out.

Sula‘s plot centers around the friendship of Nel Wright and Sula Peace, two complimentary yet contrasting forces. Childhood best friends, Sula and Nel are bound together by a closeness that others have described as a “oneness”, until one fateful day, Sula betrays Nel, and their friendship falls apart.

I absolutely loved the first part when Morrison describes the two’s childhoods and family histories. One thing about this book is that it has the most complicated and three-dimensional characters of any other books I’ve ever read. Not one person is completely good or bad as Morrison shows us, but everyone is capable of both beautiful and terrible things, Sula being the most prominent example. When they were young, Sula and Nel had an encounter with a couple of white boys on the street. Sula pulls out a knife and slices off the tips of her finger, warning the boys of what she might do to them. She does this to herself in order to protect Nel. Years later, Sula becomes a social outcast because of the sexual freedom she chooses and the community begins to see her as a witch and a threat to their families. On the other end of the spectrum is Nel. Well-respected in the black community, Nel eventually reveals that on the day Sula flung Chicken Little into the lake, she not only had not felt scared, but felt good that she could remain calm in a situation where Sula was panicked. Morrison creates characters that, at one moment, the reader would scorn and perhaps even despise, and at another, cry with and feel just how human they are, how human we all are.

My writing teacher once told me, in a character development class, that it is nearly impossible for someone to be 100% evil, that all of us are a mix of good and bad, and that traditional “bad guys” would only have to be 51% bad to tip the balance. I believe that reading develops empathy, and with Sula, I really learned to empathize with so many complex characters.

Toni Morrison has a gift with language, a skill of wrapping the ordinary and vernacular up with the elegant and grand. Her language is poetic with a hint of magical realism. I’ve learned in my fiction class this year that every word matters, and there is no other writer who does this better — except Amy Hempel — than Toni Morrison. Take her opening line for example:

“In that place, where they tore the nightshade and blackberry patches from their roots to make room for the Medallion City Golf Course, there was once a black neighborhood.”

And her equally stunning last line:

“It was a fine cry — loud and long — but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.”

For years I have heard of the literary giant Toni Morrison, but somehow never picked her up. The reason that I did is because the same thing happened to my English teacher, who, one day at the start of class, held up Sula for everyone to see, his eyes twice as big as usual, and raved about how good she was. Because I trusted his taste greatly, I picked up Toni Morrison the first chance I got, which, happened to be in a donation box (I snatched Sula and Beloved and quite a lot Salinger). No need to say that she did not disappoint.

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