Recommendation: A good showing from Morrison, but it’s not up to the level of accessibility in The Bluest Eye. If you love sifting your way through deep literary fiction, you’ll probably enjoy Jazz, but if you get aggravated when an author follows tangents for the sake of writing, you should stay away from this one.
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Toni Morrison part deux! I figure if I’m going to finally read Toni Morrison, I might as well go for broke and read a couple of her works. Jazz investigates the swirling repercussions of a murder (but with a hint of suicide and a touch of negligence). Joe and Violet, City dwellers in their early fifties, are sharing life and moving along as happy as anyone to be away from their country town origins. But, Violet begins to suffer from a depressing self-identity crisis and Joe falls in love with another woman, Dorcas. When Dorcas moves on, Joe loses himself and shoots her, eventually leading to her death. Violet, Joe, and Dorcas’ friends and family are then left to process and work through the traumatic events.
Toni Morrison is an excellent writer and even if she’s writing about nothing you can slide her lines into your head and enjoy the tangy taste as they melt into your mind. But, she ain’t perfect. And I think Jazz is an example of when a brilliant author lets herself go too far. One of my favorite things about Morrison’s writing is the character history that she includes. An area that is often ignored nowadays, Morrison’s character histories are rich, complex, meaningful, and thorough…but they were simply too much in this novel. The first half of Jazz is powerful, spinning out Joe and Violet’s story amid the turmoil that Joe introduces into their lives, but the second half loses focus and flails about, unable to get on track for quite a while. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great flailing. If there was a flailing competition, Jazz would win Best In Show every time, hands down.
The only problem is that flailing is flailing. It can be perfectly written and it won’t change the fact that it isn’t necessary. And that is this novel’s central flaw. Morrison let’s her greatest strength (establishing character histories) run amok. There are too many tangential characters introduced in the novel’s latter half to maintain focus on what the reader is supposed to be learning.
There is plenty of great writing in Jazz, and I thought Violet’s identity crisis and shifting personae were incredibly interesting. I wanted more of her. I wanted more of Joe. I wanted a better explanation of how Joe managed to avoid any kind punishment considering that EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THE BOOK KNOWS HE SHOT HER. I understand there were some specific circumstances and all that, but I don’t find it particularly believable that nobody even tries to do anything about it. Overall, I just really feel that Morrison did a disservice to her own talent by spending so many pages in her time machine telling us about Golden Gray instead of using that space on Joe, Violet, or Alice. Character history is important, but I think it’s considerably less important to explain the details of someone’s great-grandfather/caretaker’s life than it is to explain the details of the main character’s past and present. But, for those deep deep lovers of literary fiction, I have an inkling that this will be right up your alley. If you keep the title in mind and look at how Morrison winds her narrative, you’ll be impressed to one degree or another. Unfortunately, this doesn’t change the fact that Morrison’s story suffers for the sake of her creative endeavor.