Truth in Timbre: On Reading Toni Morrison- Kerry Clare
It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve started to read the novels of Toni Morrison—
Beloved, Sula, Jazz, and just recently her debut The Bluest Eye—and for me, this has been a process of becoming, of watching the possibilities of literature unfolding. Mesmerizing, and also disorientating. I’ve found understanding these novels to be difficult. The kinds of places where the bottom land is high up on the hill. Where the unsaid is articulated, where the wicked are permitted sympathy and understanding. Whose love is a kind of gutting desperation, an urge toward destruction. Stories that are strange, true, and irreducible.
“I chose a unique situation, not a representative one,” Morrison explains in the Foreword to The Bluest Eye. And yet that novel’s unique situation, the particular wounding and destruction of Pecola Breedlove, is shown not to be singular at all, but connected to race, to class, to gender, to geography. To everything. Omnipresent and haunting.
“There is really nothing more to say—except why. But since why is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how.”
In The Bluest Eye, as in all her novels that I’ve read so far, Morrison’s narrative stretches back across years and the expanse of a country to answer that question of how, never straightforward, never linear, because to be direct is too simple. A straight line can be negated, traced back upon itself, but the winding tendrils of Pecola’s story are impossible to resist becoming tangled in. Or you might try to resist, but they’ll only hold you tighter.
And I marvel at how a novel about such abject suffering, a novel I find absolutely difficult, can still flow like running water. Sparkle, even. How can The Bluest Eye be such a pleasure to read? The pitch-perfect dialogue, the most compelling description of the viscousness of vomit: “How, I wonder, can it be so neat and nasty at the same time?” How does a writer do a thing like that? Capturing “the dreadful funkiness of passion, the funkiness of nature, the funkiness of the wide range of human emotions”?
As a beginning reader of Toni Morrison, and as a reader who is white, I relate to the perspective of Claudia in The Bluest Eye, listening with her sister to the conversation of the grown-ups around them: “We do not, cannot, know the meanings of all their words… So we watch their faces, their hands, their feet, and listen for truth in timbre.”
Check out Kerry Clare’s latest novel Waiting For a Star To Fall
KERRY CLARE’S first novel, Mitzi Bytes, was called “entertaining, engaging and timely” by the Toronto Star, who also noted that it “heralds the arrival of a fantastic, fun new novelist on the Canadian scene.”
She is editor of The M Word: Conversations About Motherhood, a National Magazine Award-nominated essayist, and editor of Canadian books website 49thShelf.com. She writes about books and reading at her popular blog, Pickle Me This and lives in Toronto with her family.