Jazz by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison is a gifted writer who can set a stage, create a mood, and tell a story taking the reader right into a world that is reserved for a very discriminate segment of the population, whether it is a ghetto tenement, an all black neighborhood, or the home of descendants of American slaves. Morrison is a self appointed spokesperson for black women and winner of the Pulitzer Prize (for her novel Beloved) and the Nobel Prize for Literature. In spite of all that, Jazz was a disappointment.
Taking place in Harlem, New York during the 1920’s- the era of prohibition and jazz- the story is told from various points of view; each person (including the dead victim) participates in weaving the tale of adultery, murder, and revenge. The first four pages explain the entire plot… 50 year old Joe Trace has an affair with an 18 year old girl named Dorcas and then in a fit of passion kills her. Joe’s wife Violet is already the subject of neighborhood gossip for her questionable mental stability. Discovering that her husband loved another woman sends Violet into a blind rage. Violet storms into the funeral, marches up to the coffin, and attempts to slash Dorcas’ face but she is thrown to the ground and forcibly removed from the church.
So there you have it. What happens from page 5 to the end of this 256 page novel you ask? Absolutely nothing! Therein lies the problem. No investigation, no trial, no punishment (for Joe or Violet), no divorce, no nothing.
In fact, on Page 6, in the aftermath of the murder and the funeral, Dorcas’ best friend starts hanging around with Joe and Violet, and the narrator eludes to further action, “and that’s how that scandalizing threesome on Lenox Avenue began. What turned out different was who shot whom.” Doesn’t that imply there will be another murder? For the remainder of the book I kept waiting for something to happen… and then more of nothing. I was stunned. I thought, “Did I miss something?” I re-read the last chapter. Nothing! The plot totally lacked depth and continuity. The one positive aspect of Jazz is the colorful descriptions. Morrison does with words what Spike Lee does with film… very vivid ethnic and cultural ambience. But, if you are looking for a “story”, you will have to look elsewhere.
Rated 2 stars.
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