I love the way Toni Morrison writes! Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, is a great introduction to the way she puts words together, and the way she comes at the heart of her story from many different angles before finally revealing what she wants you to know about it.
The Bluest Eye's jacket has a review from the New York Times that says: "So charged with pain and wonder the the novel becomes poetry." I really can't put it much better than that. She takes a concept - our perception of racial beauty - and tells a story about a girl that personifies this struggle. But in doing so, she throws into the pot - almost as minute particles of spice - observations about how we say things, see things, think about things, hear things, and relate to one another that cut to the quick of human experience. Which is all any author can ever hope to do in fiction.
As for the story, she tells us about Pecola, this poor, forgotten and abused girl. This could be a depressing sob story that doesn't say very much. But it's absolutely not. It means something. And in telling her story, she tells the story of myriad people around her that affect, observe, promote, ignore, care, or facilitate Pecola's imperturbable, horrifying downward trajectory. And somehow, it's beautiful and terrifying and revolting and profound.
But her words! She doesn't just say that two adults had a conversation that two children couldn't understand. She says:
"Their conversation is like a gently wicked dance: sound meets sound, curtsies, shimmies, and retires. Another sound enters but is upstaged by still another: the two circle each other and stop. Sometimes their words move in lofty spirals; other times they take strident leaps, and all of it is punctuated with warm-pulsed laughter - like the throb of a heart made of jelly. The edge, the curl, the thrust of their emotions is always clear to Freida and me. We do not, cannot, know the meanings of all their words, for we are nine and ten years old. So we watch their faces, their hands, their feet, and listen for truth in timbre."
I was totally impressed.
She also manages to push your worldview, in a gentle yet direct manner, to see more of life and how people act. You want to behave better than you did before picking up the book. Pecola could easily be the homeless woman you see on the street and briskly walk past with a pang of guilt, but immediately forgetting. Reminders that everyone has a story and trials and tribulations and reasons for why they are the way they are, like this book, hopefully push us to see the world a little more clearly. And compassionately.
I'd recommend reading this book, and then wading into the deeper pool of Beloved. That is a complex, solid chunk of a book that I dived into headfirst when I was in high school (thank you Ms. Defeo) - reading this book makes me want to read Beloved again. I am sure I'd be able to absorb more.