A few years ago, I was living in Toronto to pursue a career in advertising – which promptly crashed and burned. (How badly? On a scale from one to ten: Hindenburg.) Because my mode of transportation, much like my heroine Wonder Woman’s, was invisible, I often took public transportation. Which isn’t much of a big deal in Toronto, because, for the most part, it is readily available and fairly frequent. Plus, my driving skills are barely passable in the suburbs, so my chances of surviving in big city traffic…well, there’d be no chance. Anyway, my point is that because I took so much public transportation, I’d often find myself at the TTC’s Union subway station. WIthin this subway station is an underground mall populated with tenants such as Coles Bookstore, Starbucks, and the LCBO. (You can see why I frequented there between stops).
It seemed that every time I entered the mall, everyone else was exiting; that everyone but I was going in the same direction. All those who walked in the opposite direction as I did seemed purposeful, seemed as though they knew where they were going and how to get there. And I – who kept losing job after job and going on futile interview after futile interview, did not. Like a tidal wave, this rush of people kept pushing me back to where I was going, and I kept fighting against them, kept pushing back. Every single time this happened, every single time, it would remind me of a certain scene in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.
You can breathe a sigh of relief: this is not going to be a post about my life. And for the pre-teen girls who Googled a certain flash-in-the-pan boy band and came across this: ha-ha!
About two weeks ago, legendary American author – and winner of prizes both Nobel and Pulitzer – Toni Morrison received The White House Medal of Honor, over which I totally had French kittens. The news of this made me revisit how much I love love love this author, to whom I was introduced back in high school with her 1976 novel Song of Solomon. It continues to one of my favourite novels ever; I even have a couple of posts about my
obsession with love for this book. And, as promised in my second post about this novel, I’m about to write a third. So, to preface that third post, and to celebrate – albeit belatedly – Toni receiving this prestigious award, I am going to dedicate this post to her wonderfulness.
I was going to write a mini-biography on her, but this one from New York Magazine is so effing incredible I’ll just post the link to it here. Instead, I’ll post a “book-ography” of her work, from 1970’s The Bluest Eye to the recently published Home.
But first, I’ve gotta say this: Fifty Shades of Grey is NOT a literary phenomenon. It’s all hype and sensationalism. I’ve said it here before and I’ll say it again: just because something is popular, doesn’t mean it’s good. Now, Toni Morrison? She is a literary phenomenon. Her work reflects her preternatural intelligence, her willingness to represent the world as it is in all its ugliness, yet, through the genius and magnificence of her prose, make it sound beautiful. And above all, her mastery of language and storytelling is nearly unparalleled. Her work has resonated for over forty years and will continue to do so, because her understanding of human nature and all its flaws – much like Shakespeare – is something we can all relate to.
The whole “Hey Girl” Ryan Gosling thingy (which I never really got) is now a book! What-evs: he’ll always be lounge-lizard-in-training Sean Hanlon to me! [Feminist Ryan Gosling]
The Trillium Book Award celebrates its silver anniversary [The Walrus]
Favourite Books of Famous People (Barack Obama’s pick is Song of Solomon screeee!) [ShortList]
Orange ends sponsorship of Prize for Fiction. (What’s going on here? First the Pulitzer doesn’t hand out a prize for fiction because apparently, nothing published this year was good enough, and now this.) [Quill and Quire]
Shock of all shocks: there’s a lack of racial diversity in YA fiction [Kate Hart]
Kerouac’s On The Road premieres at Cannes [IBN Live]
A summary of J.K. Rowling’s first book for adults [J.K. Rowling]
I know I said I had a most very favourite book in the whole wide world, but I lied. I have two.
Song of Solomon is the other one. I’ve even posted about it here before, because I think it contains one of the most tragic scenes I’ve ever read. There are a lot of memorable scenes in the novel – Hagar’s death being one of them, the other, being the one which I’m writing about right now. In fact, I am willing to admit that I’m pretty obsessed with this scene, but of course I am, because it involves food.
In this scene, Macon Dead, Jr (whose nickname, until the age of 40, is Milkman because his mother got busted by a delivery man while breastfeeding him until the age of six; apparently, she is “Mom Enough”) and his comrade, Guitar, venture into the home of Milk’s estranged aunt, Pilate. There’s this whole family history and rhyme and reason as to why Milk is forbidden to see her, but maybe I’ll save all of that for a future post.
Anyway, Milk drags Guitar to his aunt’s house because he is curious about her. And while they visit, she instructs them as to how to make the perfect soft boiled egg. So everybody, listen up and heed the advice of Pilate (yeah, she’s named after the guy who killed Christ…like I said, I’ll explain later) if you want an egg that includes yolk which is “soft, but not runny…like wet velvet.”
“Now, the water and the egg have to meet each other on a kind of equal standing. One can’t get the upper hand over the other. So the temperature has to be the same for both. I knock the chill off the water first. Just the chill. I don’t let it get warm because the egg is room temperature, you see. Now, then, the real secret is right here in the boiling. When the tiny bubbles come to the surface, when they as big as peas and just before they get big as marbles. Well, right then you take the pot off the fire. You don’t just put the fire out; you take the pot off. Then you put a folded newspaper over the pot and do one small obligation. Like answering the door or emptying the bucket and bringing it in off the front porch. I generally go to the toilet. Not for a long stay, mind you. Just a short one. If you got that, you got yourself a perfect soft-boiled egg.”
The finished product is described as having “moist reddish-yellow centres.” Seriously, reading this scene makes me hungry every single time.
Man, I’ve forgotten how much I love this book. I have one more memorable scene about which I’ll post, but in addition to that I think I’ll post a full summary the way I did with She’s Come Undone. So look for that in the future! ‘Cause I know how much you care, all two of my faithful readers!
Okay, more like fucking cousins.
They won’t let a minor issue like blood relations stop them from hookin’ up for twelve plus years. Or that his father and her grandmother have been estranged siblings for years.
Sure, the pairing is creepy as hell, but given Milkman’s history:
- his mother’s HUGE Electra complex (aka lying in bed butt nekkid next to her father’s corpse, her mouth full of his fingers)
- being breastfed by this same woman until the age of six – which explains the nickname that follows him into this 40s
this is pretty tame.
But after a while Milk tires of cousin-fucking. After a while he’s just doing it because Hagar’s just there. She’s now become the “third beer.”
…not the first one, which the throat receives with almost tearful gratitude; nor the second, that confirms and extends the pleasure of the first. But the third, the one you drink because it’s there, it can’t hurt, and because what difference does it make?
But when he decides incest is not best, well, to say Hagar handles this rejection well is an understatement.
It’s utterly heartbreaking.
Hagar is driven into a deep depression, refusing to speak at all, until in an attempt to cheer her up, her grandmother gives her a compact mirror as a gift. But instead, upon seeing her reflection, Hagar thinks that she lost Milk because she let herself go, and ventures on a makeover spree in an attempt to get him back. She begins with new clothes, but runs into a roadblock when trying on a dress, which enhances her sense of desperation. “She was convinced that her whole life depended on whether or not those aluminum teeth would meet.” Then, after clothing: “…all she needed was makeup”. She senses salvation in the cosmetic department.
Peachy powders and milky lotions were grouped in front of poster after cardboard poster of gorgeous grinning faces. Faces in ecstasy. Faces somber with achieved seduction. Hagar believed she could spend her life there among the cut glass, shimmering in peaches and cream, in satin. In opulence. In luxe. In love.
Next she ventures into Lilly’s Beauty Parlor. “I have to get my hair done. I have to hurry.” But since she’s made no appointment, she has to wait a while. So armed with the two shopping bags filled with the things she believes will get her man back, she roams the streets, her thoughts full of him.
Which then leads to the saddest scene I’ve ever read.