"Jazz" by Toni Morrison (1992)
"'You don't have to think about none of it. You ain't in it. You ever see me mess with anybody? I been in this building longer than you have. You ever hear a word against me from any woman? I sell beauty products all over town, you ever hear tell of me chasing a woman? No. You never heard that, because it never happened. Now I"m trying to lighten my life a little with a good lady, like a decent man would, that's all. Tell me what's wrong with that?'"
Toni Morrison is a Nobel Prize-winning American author. She has also received the Pulitzer Prize for her novel "Beloved," which forms a trilogy with "Jazz" and "Paradise". She is a professor of Literature, and holds posts at various universities.
"Jazz" is the story of The City, which could be loosely defined as New York. It is also the story of African Americans between world wars, and their migration from country into city. It is also, finally, about a love triangle. It is about a woman, her husband, and the young girl who is the object of their shared obsession.
I found this book somewhat annoying at first. It seemed like a plea for the wife's hysteria, and for the faithlessness of men. Then, about a fourth of the way through, it grew more three dimensional, and other characters had their say. The husband became less of a caricature, and the young girl was given reasons for stealing another woman's husband.
Suddenly there were many sides to the same issue, and what at first glance seemed an overly simplistic novel grew increasingly nuanced. This is, perhaps, a feature of the very music that the novel tries so hard to emulate, and as I read further into the book I began to see patterns that I hadn't noticed at first. I began to find the substance that one would expect from a Nobel-winning author.
"Jazz" is an accomplished novel. It's also an involving piece of literature, even if the "Golden Gray" episode near the end strays a bit too close to Faulkner territory. I can't say that it is perfect. At times it seems a bit disjointed, but it is very good overall.
I would recommend this book if you are looking for a more challenging novel about the black experience in America, something akin to Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man," or one of V.S. Naipul's books. Those used to lighter fare will probably find it obtuse and frustrating, but those looking for a thought-provoking book on what it means to be African and American will certainly like it. It doesn't pack the same punch as "Go Down, Moses", but it will make you think, and that's a good thing.