"Rumors had been whispered for more than a year. Outrages that had been accumulating all along took shape as evidence. A mother was knocked down the stairs by her cold-eyed daughter. Four damaged infants were born in one family. Daughters refused to get out of bed. Brides disappeared on their honeymoons. Two brothers shot each other on New Year's Day. Trips to Demby for VD shots common. And what went on at the Oven these days was not to be believed . . . The proof they had been collecting since the terrible discovery in the spring could not be denied: the one thing that connected all these catastrophes was in the Convent. And in the Convent were those women."
In Paradise--her first novel since she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature--Toni Morrison gives us a bravura performance. As the book begins deep in Oklahoma early one morning in 1976, nine men from Ruby (pop. 360), in defense of "the one all-black town worth the pain," assault the nearby Convent and the women in it. From the town's ancestral origins in 1890 to the fateful day of the assault, Paradise tells the story of a people ever mindful of the relationship between their spectacular history and a void "Out There . . . where random and organized evil erupted when and where it chose." Richly imagined and elegantly composed, Paradise weaves a powerful mystery.
So intense and evocative in its particulars, so wide-ranging in its arch, this is another, if imperfect, triumph for the Nobel Prize-winning author (Song of Solomon; Beloved; etc.). In 1950, a core group of nine old families leaves the increasingly corrupted African American community of Haven, Okla., to found in that same state a new, purer community they call Ruby. But in the early 1970s, the outside world begins to intrude on Ruby's isolation, forcing a tragic confrontation. It's about this time, too, that the first of five damaged women finds solace in a decrepit former convent near Ruby. Once the pleasure palace of an embezzler, the convent had been covered with lascivious fixtures that were packed away or painted over by the nuns. Time has left only "traces of the sisters' failed industry," however, making the building a crumbling, fertile amalgam of feminine piety and female sexuality. It's a woman's world that attracts the women of Ruby--and that repels the men who see its occupants as the locus of all the town's ills. They are "not women locked safely away from men; but worse, women who chose themselves for company, which is to say not a convent but a coven." Only when Morrison treats the convent women as an entity (rather than as individual characters) do they lose nuance, and that's when the book falters. Still, the individual stories of both the women and the townspeople reveal Morrison at her best. Tragic, ugly, beautiful, these lives are the result of personal dreams and misfortune; of a history that encompasses Reconstruction and Vietnam; and of mystical grandeur. 400,000 first printing; simultaneous audio and large print editions (; -70217-2)
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Just another great work of Morrison