(Find it HERE.)
Some books show you the lives of other people. Some books show you yourself. Some books do both. Song of Solomon has always been the last for me, although it’s always been hard to put my finger on exactly why. ⠀
This is a deceptively dense novel, packed with story and detail, and this review is going to remain pretty light on them. There’s so much going on between these pages that I really can’t do a play-by-play or summary review justice. Instead, I’m just going to skim across why this book has so much importance for me, personally.
It’s been over twenty years and a half-dozen rereads since I first met the inhabitants of Not Doctor and Darling streets and then followed the very unfortunately named Milkman Dead on a self-absorbed quest through his secretive family tree and his own personhood. There are sections of the book that continuously live in my head rent-free- Milkman’s first encounter with his lover (and cousin, ick) Hagar is one. But there are other bits that I rediscover every time–the ending, which I won’t spoil even a drop of, always surprises me. I never remember what’s coming until it happens, and even then I’m always surprised, sad, and thrilled by it, in that order. ⠀
In a lot of ways this is very familiar territory for Morrison–a look into the inner lives of Black Americans in the middle part of the twentieth century, warts and all, rendered in beautifully figurative prose. But in other ways it’s really different. The main character is a man, masculinity is a major theme, and the book deals with the supernatural more than any other Morrison work except perhaps Beloved. While Milkman, his coldly resentful father Macon, and his best friend Guitar (who looks like LaKeith Stanfield in my mind) take up most of the narrative space, for me the book has always revolved around the two trinities of women related to Milkman. His mother and sisters form one; his aunt and cousins the other. For me, the former represent the pain of a life lived solely in the servile orbit of male approval and sponsorship; the latter, the loneliness of a life where men are liked well enough but not socially or economically centered. When the polarities reverse, the results are unpredictably tragic, and it made me much sadder on this read than I remember from previous ones. Since my first reading of this at 16, it’s the women in Milkman’s world that I’ve always learned from and identified with, in a variety of ways. ⠀⠀
This is top-tier Morrison for me. Characters that live and breathe, a riveting, emotional plot, stunning symbolism, shocking honesty, and beautiful prose.⠀
5 stars and a pair of wings to Song of Solomon
(Beautiful people! Thank you, as always, for reading. This book has had such a profound effect on me over the years I hope you’ll consider picking it up at your local library or purchasing it from HERE. If you want to see a list of Toni Morrison’s work, click HERE. Reminder: this blog does have affiliate relationships with sites like Bookshop and if you purchase anything from a link you click on this site, a commission may be paid. Peace!)