Review: Paradise

“The visionary language of the doomed reaches heights of linguistic ardor with which language of the blessed and saved cannot compete.” ~ Toni Morrison, Paradise

Paradise by Toni Morrison
453 pages
Published by Random House, 1997
Genre: Historical fiction
Re-readability: I won’t be reading this one again
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed by Pete
Spoiler-free review

This is the fourth Toni Morrison book I’ve read in a short period of time—about six months—and unfortunately it may be my last for a while.

Paradise follows several women in a convent outside the town of Ruby, Oklahoma, an all-black town. The story opens with the end—it’s 1976, and several men from the town have decided that the convent us a danger to the town of Ruby. They arrive with guns, intending to kill the women of the convent.

This book falls into a category of plot structure I call a “painting story.” Rather than move forward, the plot moves inward as Morrison gives us more and more details of the characters past and brief glimpses of the present. Not much happens in the “now” of Paradise, but we learn the story of the town of Ruby and how each of the women came to the convent.

I think something changed in Morrison’s style as her career went on. The Bluest Eye and Song of Solomon were gorgeously written and had me scrutinizing every line, all while moving me forward with compelling plots. Her writing was no worse in Beloved and Paradise, but the plot of both books felt stagnant. Things move slowly or not at all, and particularly in Paradise, I felt like I was buried under the avalanche of Morrison’s words.

The characters were certainly distinct and compelling, but there was no thread of plot to keep my interest. After a while, their stories seemed to blend together, and I found myself wondering why exactly this book needed to be 450 pages long.

This book is an endurance test. Without a powerful plot, it read more like an essay or a biography than a story. I’m probably going to take a break from Morrison for a while.

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