I’ve loved Toni Morrison ever since I read The Bluest Eye in my early teen years. My love for her ability to link words together and make something heartbreakingly beautiful only deepened when I read more of her work in some lit classes in college. Naturally, the last time I was at my local used bookstore, I had to check out their Morrison selection. When I saw that they had several of her novels I went wide-eyed. I was torn between wanting to leave a few copies for someone else and wanting to take everything they had even though I wouldn’t be able to read them right away. I responded like a hoarder and cleared their shelves. Amongst the books I ran off with was a heavily used copy of Sula.
I’m trying to read about three books a month in an effort to make a dent in my overflowing bookshelves. Last month, I took much too long reading my first book. When it came time to choose my second, I combed my bookshelves for a short novel. My eyes landed on a worn, thin spine that read: Sula. At 174 pages, Sula is one of Morrison’s shorter novels; but it holds a punch in true Morrison fashion.
Sula is a girl who lives in a small, impoverished, black town. She is the last in a long line of independent women that keeps the town constantly talking. Her attitude isn’t friendly, her ways are questionable, but her confidence is bold and cautiously refreshing. The book follows her, and various characters she interacts with, over the course of about fifty years, each new chapter depicting one particular year.
Morrison uses Sula to challenge the reader’s idea of leaving your humble beginnings, go out into the world, and to come back with the wealth of knowledge and experience you have accumulated. Naturally, it is not an easy departure or return for Sula but from her choices emerge conflict. From her choices her family’s secrets come to light. The short length makes Sula a quick read, but the drama that unfolds makes it a page-turner.
Perhaps one of my favorite sentences from the novel is: “It was as though he no longer needed to drink to forget whatever it was he could not remember.” This seemingly complex, yet beautiful, sentence refers to an alcoholic character that survived, and is haunted, by the First World War. It’s a short sentence yet it is immensely beautiful and touching. The structure and tone of the sentence manages to perfectly capture the feel of the rest of the characters and the novel as a whole. Morrison is a pro at this.
Sula is short, sweet, and easy to read. Get to your local used bookstore and do yourself a favor and pick up a copy!
What is your favorite Toni Morrison book?