March 16, 2007

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes WereWatching God
Zora Neale Hurston, 1937

This is one of those novels that I always wanted to read, but never got around to till recently. I admit that it took me a while to get drawn into its world, which is basically an emotional journey. It has the varied trappings of a coming-of-age story, a picaresque slice of life, a fable, and a social critique, but what makes it special is the emotional depth and resonance of the main character Janie. The story is told with great reliance on "big fat symbols," but draws life from them rather than suffering under their weight. Focused down tightly on Janie and the events over a few decades of her life, the narrative actually gains strength from its narrow tracking of her developing mental landscape. It's a character study drawn out over time, and it's the inner life of the mind, with its special rhythms and contours, which is the author's prime target.

The real grace of the book for me is in its language, which manages blend the earthy and the sublime in ways that I haven't experienced in other literature. For example:

"…love ain't somethin' lak uh grindstone dat's de same thing everywhere and do de same thing tuh everything it touch. Love is lak de sea. It's uh movin' thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it's different with every shore"

That's really good writing, focusing on inner emotional truth. Chick lit? spare me. Oprah seal of approval or not, this is a singular achievement.

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