Volume 91, Issue 85

Wednesday, March 11, 1998

home and dry


BOOK REVIEW: Morrison has found Paradise

Toni Morrison
Random House

$32.95/320 pgs.

Toni Morrison has already won a Pulitzer, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature. Her latest novel, Paradise, is sure to further add to her acclamation – and with good reason. Paradise is not only entertaining, but it also contains some important insights, leaving the reader deep in thought long after the last page has been turned.

Set in the mid-'70s, Paradise describes the results when a group of drifters congregate too long in a town bent on fending off outsiders at any cost. The citizens of the town of Ruby, Oklahoma understand the frailty of the isolation which they and their parents before them have worked so hard to build. The families of the town's founders, shunned by white people and lighter skinned, "impure" blacks, want only to lead their lives in peace and to maintain the integrity of their bloodlines. In a brilliant evaluation of human nature, Morrison shows how the citizens of Ruby have themselves become suspicious and hateful of outsiders.

The interlopers in question are a handful of women whose lives have been shattered and have wound up by chance at a former school/mansion outside of Ruby, known to locals as the Convent. Although never considered respectable, the women at the Convent are tolerated, until Ruby begins to collapse from the inside. The strangers are blamed and the results are unimaginable.

Paradise is not your average story. It is more of an exploration of a number of characters, as a foundation for providing some incredible insight into human nature. The storyline becomes of secondary importance, with the focus being an in-depth analysis of each character. Anyone familiar with Morrison's work will recognize her ability to expose the deepest elements of characters in a convincing fashion. Paradise is overwhelming in its delivery of personalities the reader can understand and anticipate.

The depth in which the characters are described serves to humanize them as much as possible and to help the reader understand the reasons for the tension between the people of Ruby and the Convent women. By learning the histories of each character, we can see how they have learned to hate and to close themselves to those unlike themselves, building a circle of discrimination.

Morrison has a formidable talent with language, which she displays in a variety of ways. Unusual but apt metaphors and descriptions are made subtle as events are never described directly, making readers raise eyebrows with unexpected pleasure. The transition between loose, imperfect dialogue among characters and flowing poetic narrative add a quality of depth to the text that is attempted by many authors, achieved by only a few and easily accomplished in Paradise.

Paradise is very entertaining as a story, but its greater value lies in what it can teach about hatred and acceptance and how human nature can taint even the most perfectly constructed society. This novel should only add to the proof that Toni Morrison deserves her place amongst the great authors of our time.

–Mark DiMenna

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Copyright The Gazette 1998