Blogger says this is my 100th post! Happy 100 little blog. We're still going strong, are we not? This blogging thing is rather addictive; I encourage anyone with something to say to give it a whirl. Writing is powerful stuff.
Speaking of powerful writing, I finished Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye the other day. It took a little longer than books that size usually take because so much of what she was writing about needed to be digested slowly. The edition I read had an afterward where she commented on how effective she felt the piece to be. While she concluded that her ideas and forms were important and executed in the way she had intended, she felt that the piece as a whole did not quite work in the way she had hoped it would. She says "many readers remain touched but not moved."
I understand this frustration. As a writer, you want your words to get under the reader's skin, to become something more profound than an exchange of important ideas, to somehow pierce a little into the soul of another, communication through words, but beyond them somehow. Words are the medium, but they are not the ends. Morrison is perhaps so gifted with words and so urgent with the passion of the ideas that she wishes to explore, that her writing life must be one of perpetual frustration. Like Sisyphus.
That said, I see her point. The book is incredible. Moments in it will stick with me, like the chapter on Cholly's childhood. She made me empathize with--even like and pity a little--a father who rapes his daughter. I don't think I'll ever quite shake that one off. But as a whole, the piece was almost too ambitious to contain in the limited story that she sets for it. The comment she needs to make about the internalization of ugliness in culturally defined beauty extends so far beyond Pecola's story that often the novel seems to forget that it is Pecola's story--that Claudia is the narrator. I LOVE this book, but in places it seems more like a thesis for cultural anthropology than a novel. Not that I don't enjoy reading anthropological observations, especially by an intellect as finely honed as Morrison's, but it does sacrifice the emotional involvement of the reader in the story for the conveyance of the expository comments.
But then, there is the risk of being misunderstood. Stephen King said that all failures in writing (all bad writing, not that Morrison's could ever come close to qualifying as "bad") comes from fear. Perhaps afraid that we would miss her point, she made the exchange--emotional stake for intellectual clarity. That such a fierce writer would EVER fear being misunderstood speaks volumes itself about the ingrained racial and gender problems our society still faces, and that in itself makes the book, even in all its very few shortcomings, spectacular.