This summer, I’m reading minor works by major authors. So far, I’ve read:
1. Dust Tracks On the Road by Zora Neal Hurston (which was bad, really bad, awful, and exposed her as someone who shouldn’t try to be funny)
2. Men Without Women by Ernest Hemingway (not a good collection although a few stories are worth reading)
3. The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O’Connor (incredible writing – she always writes well – although the story makes Cormac McCarthy’s Outer Dark seem sort of light and uplifting)
4. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (if this is Jane Austen’s worst, I feel sorry for the rest of the world’s writers – I loved this book and it’s brilliant dialogue)
And now, Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby, an intersting reading experience. I know what Morrison is doing in this book. I know her well enough that I can see what she was attempting. I see why she wrote what I’ll call section one (for those of you who’ve read it, you’ll know what I mean) and why section one had to fail, had to confuse, had to die out and get boring for section two to work. Morrison was going for great, not just good. And after all her success – most importantly, this was after Song of Solomon – Morrison wanted something new and astounding. She wanted to dazzle the writing community with her deepest work. And she does get to another level with her use of perspective in this novel. But…
Most readers won’t get there. They’ll start to get bored with the tedious and trivial fighting between what are truly two boring married characters. Morrison tries to write out of her comfort zone and it doesn’t work. But I still admire her attempt. And, honestly, I can’t write better even within what I understand. Not yet. What I want to do and what I’m capable of doing are not equal. I want these great stories and these first novels that are eloquent and subtle and tragic, but I’m not there. I need to do more work. I need to write every day for ten mores years. And then, after all that, if I do produce a great work, I still might fail after, might fail with my next work. Like others have before. Like the writers I’m reading this summer. But failure is as important as success.