Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Sula: Myth, Mirror, Warrior


I've been thinking and thinking of how to write about Sula by Toni Morrison. Some novels are so thick with meaning, even when they're slim on pages, it can be hard to process them.

Nel Wright and Sula Peace grow up in the Bottom, an all-black town set on a hillside overlooking the all-white town of Medallion, Ohio. The fastest of friends, they grow up close--two parts of a whole?--and then they diverge. Nel marries, has children, and runs her household, while Sula disappears on the night of Nel's wedding only to wander back into town to cause a stir 10 years later.

From the start, the girls are fast friends. Morrison writes, "because each had discovered years before they were neither white nor male and that all freedom and triumph was forbidden them they set about something else to be."

It's tempting to say that Nel and Sula are the "good and bad" halves. That they're the yin to the other's yang, but all of those things would be cliche and too damn easy. Nel and Sula have things in common, but they are also vastly different. They grow apart, they come back together, they grow apart again. There's joy, and disbelief, and sorrow in their relationship. They felt real.  

I loved this book. Mostly, I loved Sula. I was a little shocked, upon reading the Goodreads reviews, that my opinion is the minority in that space. I adore and admire Sula in a way that's similar to loving Estella, Charles Dickens' antagonist and the namesake of this blog. Sula does some shockingly "bad" things in the novel. She accidentally (wasn't it?) drowns a young boy. She stands aside and watches while others come to tragic ends. She's an adulteress and a pariah. When she arrives back in town after living an uninhibited life for 10 years, her behavior makes the townsfolk feel better about themselves. They take care of each other better until she's no longer a threat, and then they can slip back into their old habits of ignoring and devaluing each other without their righteous indignation to spur them along.

Sula, in all her messy individuality, exposes the people around her just by being. Among other things, she's a vehicle for Morrison to examine small town life in all it's ridiculous hypocrisy and small-time beauty. Jackie Kay writes of Sula, in a review for The Independent, "Sula is part myth, part woman, part mirror, part warrior."

17 comments:

  1. Oh, I'm so glad you loved this. Sula was one whole chapter of my thesis about complicated maternity, and even after months of research and writing, I still love the novel.

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    1. Ooohh, I bet that was an awesome chapter!

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  2. You've made me curious about this book and I'm wondering which side I'd fall one.

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  3. Years ago, I swore I would never read another book by Morrison. I read and loved Beloved, but everything else I tried was such a struggle and disappointment. Your review has piqued my curiosity and this sounds like one I may enjoy. Thanks, Andi!

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    1. Did you try The Bluest Eye by chance? That one comes to mind because it's so short! If you have doubts, that one might be a good way to go. But Sula is definitely fantastic.

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  4. I haven't read this book in a long time but I'm glad you loved it! I think I share your love for female characters who aren't nice or good. They tend to be the most interesting!

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    1. Yes they are! Can't wait to read more of her work! I have Song of Solomon and Paradise lingering on the TBR.

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  5. I haven't read Toni Morrison in so very long. I think I was only a few years out of high school last time I read her! This one would be new to me, too. I'm glad to hear you loved this book!

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    1. I totally did not "get" her back in the days closer to high school. I think I first read Beloved because I thought it was a straightforward ghost story, and it went right over my curly head. lol I hope you can get back to her soon, Monika! She always surprises me somehow.

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  6. I haven't read anything by Toni Morrison (which is so embarrassing!) and I definitely need to remedy that. I think I'll start with Sula.

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    1. Sula or The Bluest Eye would probably be really good starting points.

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  7. It's been several years since I read this, and my book memory is horrible, but I definitely remember Sula as a character; I love her, too. I tend to enjoy the broken, "bad" characters the most. :) I'm so glad you enjoyed this one; she is an amazing author.

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    1. The broken characters are always the best. So intricate and allowed to be multifaceted. And my book memory is terrible. I'm glad it's not just me! lol

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  8. Haven't gotten to this Morrison yet but it seems I need to rectify that soon.

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  9. This sounds really good! I loved Anna Karenina and I feel like Sula could be a similarly 'unlikable' character who I could love.

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  10. I need to read this because it's about complicated female friendships and that is my jam. Thanks for reminding me about it.

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