TBT Review: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

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What is clear now is that of all of that hope, fear, lust, love, and grief, nothing remains but Pecola and the unyielding earth. Cholly Breedlove is dead; our innocence too. The seeds shriveled and died; her baby too. There is really nothing more to say—except why. But since why  is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how.

Today I’m doing a throwback to a book I read last year. My creative writing lecturer recommended this book years ago because of the timeline Morrison uses in The Bluest Eye. I finally read it. And from the first page Morrison’s style, and play with words captivated me.

Initial Insights

The Bluest Eye was like coming up for air. I’d read three John Grisham novels back to back (which I would not recommend) and needed something that would remind me why I enjoy reading.

Set in Lorain, Ohio, this epic tragedy tells the story of a little black girl, Pecola Breedlove, who longs for Blue Eyes. No. The bluest eyes in the world. Using different POVs and writing techniques, Morrison touches on beauty, abuse, racism, incest, and our innate desire to belong and be loved.

What I liked

The novel starts with a children’s story based on a basal reader Fun With Dick and Jane.

“Here is the house. It is green and white. It has a red door. It is very pretty. Here is the family. Mother, Father, Dick, and Jane live in the green-and-white house. They are very happy. See Jane. She has a red dress. She wants to play. Who will play with Jane?…”

This simple refrain is repeated but deconstructed in a manner that paints the destruction of each character, especially Pecola. It set the tone for the story Morrison’s technique also shadows the events in the story.

Pecola’s story is told through the narrative of others in her community: her friend, her parents, strangers. As if she has no voice of her own, which is sad but the Bluest Eye was meant to be a tragedy.

Morrison’s character development intrigued me. Most chapters had a different story arc that tied into Pecola’s life toward the end but the processed showed the brokenness of each character. I didn’t mind it at first because I suppose she wanted to show the flaws in all of them and the reasons for their actions. I found this interesting because other than Pecola’s father, Cholly Breedlove, I could empathize with all the characters.

Then there were the different narrative styles for each POV. The entire book is narrated by Claudia, who is looking back on a specific year when the Marigolds didn’t grow in their town. In the first section as Pecola’s storyline is explored, the narrative is simple and really true to the narrator. Short sentences humorous moments that reminded me of Scout and Jeremy Finch’s antics in “To Kill a Mocking Bird”.

Later the narrative style changes as Morrison explores Pecola’s parents through flashbacks and more complex sentence structure. Pauline Breedlove’s chapter was fun to read. Mostly because Morrison cut through the flashbacks with stretches of first person monologues. It felt as if Pauline was watching a documentary about her life and then clicked pause to reflect on key moments and their impact in her life and consequently Pecola’s.

Cholly’s chapter follows a similar style to Pauline’s but without the monologues. After Cholly’s back story we have Soaphead, whose story is also told in the third person narrative but includes a letter to God which he essentially writes to vent. In the letter, the reader is given a foretaste into Pecola’s fate.

Morrison ends with a dialogue between Pecola and either her inner self or an imaginary friend about her rape, her blue eyes, and whether she has the bluest eyes in the world. It’s really sad. This section has absolutely no narration just dialogue but again it was used in a creative way to communicate Pecola’s fate.

And then Claudia briefly wraps it all up with commentary on her and the community’s role in what becomes of Pecola. Much like the closing narrative in The Film version of the Help (still need to read the book).
What I didn’t like

After page 125 of this version, it gets quite graphic. There are a number of explicit sections. I skipped much of Cholly’s chapter and Soaphead’s letter.

Though the backstories served a purpose in the overall tale, I grew tired of being introduced to some new in each chapter. And I felt that Soaphead Church’s story was unnecessarily explicit in areas. Much of his letter was unneeded, in my opinion.

Final thoughts

Overall I loved this story. It was sad and deep and dark and it’s definitely a heavy read emotionally. But Morrison’s artistry makes it one of my literary treasures. I’d recommend it. But have something light-hearted on standby.

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Rating: 4/5

 

 

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About the Author

Toni Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. She is the author of several novels, including The Bluest Eye, Beloved (made into a major film), and Love. She has received the National Book Critics Circle Award and a Pulitzer Prize. She is the Robert F. Goheen Professor at Princeton University.

What type of novels do you prefer?

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Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption: A Story from Different Seasons by Stephen King – Review

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“Remember that hope is a good thing, Red, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

I’ve watched The Shawshank Redemption so many times that I could probably recite the opening monolog verbatim. It’s one of my favourite movies. Yet in all the times I’ve seen it, I never noticed the graphic text that read “Based on the novel by Stephen King”. I stumbled across an e-Book version of the novella while doing  Google search and being a self-proclaimed book dragon, I had to read it.

Initial Insights

Written by Stephen King, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption chronicles the life of Andrew Dufresne, a banker, in Shawshank state prison between the years 1948 and 1975. Like the film, the book is narrated by Red, an inmate who has some clout in the prison. I must say, this was my introduction to the writings of Stephen King. And I loved it.

Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption is a story about hope, friendship, identity, and unwavering determination in the most hopeless of places – a prison.

What I liked

I enjoyed the narration. Much like Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eyes” and Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”, RHSR is told in the first person/observer. A fact King mentions often with phrases like “This is what I know…My guess is…”,  “I heard this from…sources”, or “This Andy told me himself” which allowed me to trust the narrator’s account. I knew he was telling me the story as he knew it. It also made it conversational – as if you and Red are on a bus trip across the country and he’s telling you about Andy Dufresne.

Also for the last 10 pages or so, Red basically tell the audience what he thinks happened after the major turning point in the story. I liked this because it has details that the film lacks and it gives the reader insights into Andy’s state of mind towards after years in prison and shows how well the two really knew each other.

King’s use of foreshadowing works well. If I read this novella without having watched the movie, I would have had a lot more “ah” moments. I like the novella’s ending better. Both end the same way but the details differ slightly and for me, the novella’s ending was much more sentimental and rounded off both characters nicely.

What I didn’t like

There were some scenes in the film that weren’t in the book and I missed them… To start, the scene where Andy locks himself in the warden’s office to play the opera vinyl over the speakers. That scene is classic and Red’s monologue unforgettable. I kind of wish King had that idea originally. Then Andy giving Red the harmonica, and finally, the conversation between Red and Andy about hope – “That’s a dangerous thing in a place like this”. So I missed those but only because I saw the film first.

Final thoughts

All in all, I give Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption five stars. It’s message of hope and perseverance stays will stay with me always.

 

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Rating: 5/5

 

 

Favourite quote

“It goes back to what I said about Andy wearing his freedom like an invisible coat, about how he never really developed a prison mentality. His eyes never got that dull look.”

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About the Author

Stephen King is the author of more than fifty worldwide bestsellers including his novel 11/22/63, which was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller as well as the Best Hardcover Book Award from the International Thriller Writers Association. He is the recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

Friendly Neighborhood Serial Killer

I have recently started following the television series Dexter. The series, set in Miami Florida, follows the life of Dexter Morgan, a serial killer who also works as a blood splatter analyst for the Miami Metro Police Department. Now the idea that a serial killer could attract a large enough following to secure 6 seasons should be somewhat disturbing but Dexter is a charming character that easily creeps into the hearts of viewers. Throughout the series I found myself wanting him not to get caught or even predicting possible characters he can kill off.

The script writers have definitely done a good job of constructing the serial killer to be the hero. But what has happened to the morals of our society if we can follow a serial killer and ‘fall in love with him’, scream ‘noooo!’ when he might get caught and wait in anticipation for his ‘next kill.’ Perhaps morality really is a blur and the bad guy is only as bad as his constructed image. But Dexter only kills bad guys and criminals who deserve to die. And given the opportunity I would probably invite him for tea.

All in all Dexter is a criminal who entertains audiences with his killer personality. So snaps to the creators and writers…