I picked up Song of Solomon, kind of at random. It sat on my shelf for awhile, and although I’ve known for years of Toni Morrison’s status of legendary American writer, there was nothing that made me think, hmm, maybe I really need to read one of her several classics. I can say that has changed after my first Morrison experience. There are more of her delicious and filling novels on my horizon.
I’m going to admit, when I decided to read this novel, I was expecting to read a standard African American Narrative. Things being what they are in this country, I don’t think it could hurt most people to grab a copy of Ellison’s Invisible Man, or Wright’s Native Son. These two novels particularly were stirring beneath the surface as I read. Those books are heavy. Heavy isn’t even the right word. They’re wonderful novels, but they tear you to pieces. So naturally, I felt I was overdue for that to happen to me again. I found quickly that this wasn’t even remotely fair to Toni Morrison or Song of Solomon.
It should be noted that there are some similarities to draw between Morrison and those Harlem Renaissance writers. This novel is definitely a study of the Black Experience in America. The majority of the plot takes place in the early sixties, so there is a discussion to be had about the representation of the Civil Rights movement. Luckily for the reader, Morrison has several scopes. She has the Ellison/Wright element. But we also get a familial element more familiar to writers like Faulkner and her strong feminine voice adds a dash of Virginia Woolf. Morrison has the literary style to match any one of the aforementioned legends. What we get with Song of Solomon, because of its several layers that simultaneously work together without micro-focusing on any single one, is a more rewarding experience for the reader.
But, what is this book really about, besides everything? Truth. This novel is about truth. The desire to know it, and the journey to find it. “You a big man now, but big ain’t nearly enough. You have to be a whole man. And if you want to be a whole man, you have to deal with the whole truth.” (Morrison, 70) Macon Dead says this to his son, main character, Milkman. The truth for Milkman is a screwed up family with a blurry, uncertain past, screwed up friends who may not be have his best interests in mind, and a screwed up heart. The cure for his screwed up heart? The truth, of course! It will set him free, if he can find it.
With the truth about his family’s past (and gold, that’s right, a treasure hunt, but that’s really not so important, is it?) dangling in front of him like a carrot, Milkman sets off on a grand adventure from Michigan to Virginia. Through this filter, Morrison writes with tremendous beauty and detailed insight on the themes family, race, gender roles, and love. It is a gem of a novel, or a big bar of gold. I’m happy I cashed in on it.