Sula is a tragi-comic book. Toni Morrison comes out with the best lines, told in this even pacing with no drama about the most dramatic subjects.
Age turns men’s lust to kindness about little girls in town. Two of them, Nel and Sula, are the ying to each other’s yang. While the book is named for one of them, it’s really a composite collection of characters: Shadrack, damaged by war and way too wise to be such a loose cannon; Eva, the misunderstood matriarch; Helene, “who won all social battles with presence and a conviction of the legitimacy of her own authority.” And Sula’s mother Hannah, who taught her daughter that “sex was pleasant and frequent, but otherwise unremarkable.”
The town of Medallion is divided into black and white residents, given the book’s timeline primarily between the world wars.
Overhanging the whole book is a miasma of “it doesn’t matter,” a kind of low-grade gloom summed up in the ways the characters expect or don’t expect things to happen. Morrison wrote it best: “They did not believe death was accidental—life might be, but death was deliberate…. The purpose of evil was to survive it and they determined (without ever knowing they had made up their minds to do it) to survive floods, white people, tuberculosis, famine and ignorance.”
The book is rife with sly humor. Sula makes the women in town mad, because, “She came to their church suppers without underwear, bought their steaming platters of food and merely picked at it—relishing nothing, exclaiming over no one’s ribs or cobbler. They believed she was laughing at their God.”
I laughed out loud at this book several times, which was frightening to the person seated next to me on the plane. Enthusiastic recommendation for reading Sula.
In closing, this is my favorite quote about Sula: And like any artist with no art form, she became dangerous.