Toni Morrison To Release New Novel, And I'm Preparing To Pretend To Understand It

Frank Polich/Getty Images
Frank Polich/Getty Images

There are not enough superlatives to describe the work of Toni Morrison, America's greatest living novelist. The Bluest Eye isn't just a great book, it's there with Citizen Kane, What's Going On, the iPhone, and Bria Myles as one of the best and most important artistic triumphs of the last century. She is your favorite writer's favorite writer; the person who both inspires other writers to write and reminds them of their own limitations.

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And it also took me 12 years to read Jazz.

OK. It wasn't actually 12 years. It was more like five. And, that five is misleading. I first tried reading it when I was a senior in high school, lost interest, tried again a couple years later, lost interest again, and finally decided to get through it a couple years after that. Also, Jazz was intentionally constructed like a jazz performance, making it easy to appreciate and difficult to follow.

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This — "easy to appreciate and difficult to follow" — has been my experience with every Morrison novel, sans The Bluest Eye. And, I have no doubt that when I finally read God Help the Child next yearthat'll be my experience then too.

I can even predict the conversations I'll have about it:

"So, you finished reading that new Morrison book. How was it?"

"Man…it was tour de force. The way she weaves diction and imagery to create her own tapestry is spellbounding. She is an American treasure, and just thinking about the way her words affect me gives me chills?"

"Word? Damn. Well, what was the novel about?"

"…I'm not exactly sure. I think it was about gentrification or something. Maybe space travel. I just know that I was riveted by it."

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)

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DISCUSSION

I've been stuck on Tar Baby for the last 4 years. I keep picking it up and putting it down as well.

But Sula- I love! Every time I read it I pick up on something new. There are so many levels to Morrison's work it is ridiculous.