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I'd heard of "Eyes" before, having seen it referenced in books on black American literature, so I decided to read it when I found it in the library here on Arifjan.

The protagonist, Janie, a beautiful woman in her 40s, unexpectedly returns to her house in a small Florida town one night after being away for two years.  Her best friend, Pheoby, brings her something to eat and asks where she's been, knowing that everyone in town is going to be starving for the gossip.  As the reader we hear the story of Janie's travels, but also receive her backstory which presumably Pheoby would have known anyway.  What we get is a story that is romantic, humourous and also tragic as we hear about Janie and her three husbands.  The writer of the preface, Edwidge Danticat, recounts how in high school they debated if Janie should be seen as a role model and comments that Janie doesn't have to. She's just a woman who finds her own path and if it took three marriages to do so, so be it.

The novel is structurally an interesting read because Thurston's own voice as omniscient narrator is so elegant and traditionally "literate".  She contrasts this with the speech of the characters, which she spells out in their Floridian accents.  This makes the reader have to at least mental pronounce the dialogue and "get dey words in dey mouf" as the characters would say.

Hurston also was very good at using pacing to get the reader to feel along with Janie.  When Janie is in a boring marriage to the mayor of her small town, tending the store and not being allowed to interact with people her husband thinks are beneath her, the novel drags.  She is bored and we are bored along with her.  In contrast, when she meets her third husband Tea Cake, the pace picks up, the scenery changes and things happen.  The chapters themselves become shorter.  I didn't realize this was Thurston's method until I was almost finished with the book, which at that point I didn't want to put down.

One complaint about this edition, though.  Do NOT read Danticat's preface before starting the novel.  She provides major spoilers.

It's too bad books by black female authors have been ghettoized by association with Oprah Winfrey.  They are as worthy a read, if not more so, than William Faulkner or JD Salinger.  I now need to see if the library carries The Bluest Eye.

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( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
wombat_socho
Aug. 26th, 2009 10:13 am (UTC)
I've tried several books by Faulkner and found them damn near unreadable, which was a shock after the limpid clarity of "Barn Burning". So I don't have trouble believing that Hurston would be a better read.
reginaterrae
Aug. 26th, 2009 01:30 pm (UTC)
Oh, that is one of my all-time very favorite books! It's so lyrical -- I read the first page about 5 times before moving on. Love, love, love that book.

Look forward to your review of The Bluest Eye
napoleonofnerds
Aug. 26th, 2009 02:04 pm (UTC)
I'll have to give this a try, though I imagine the protagonist will irk me more than she did you.

I feel like picking Salinger and Faulkner is such a straw man in terms of dead white guy literature.
kishiriadgr
Aug. 26th, 2009 05:56 pm (UTC)
I didn't find the protagonist irksome. She's a romantic and a dreamer, but the book is about her becoming mature and grounded.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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