Jazz by Toni Morrison
Publisher: Penguin Random House UK (Vintage)
Release Date: 2001
Genre: Literary Fiction
In the winter of 1926, when everybody everywhere sees nothing but good things ahead, Joe Trace, middle-aged door-to-door salesman of Cleopatra beauty products, shoots his teenage lover to death. At the funeral, Joe’s wife, Violet, attacks the girl’s corpse. This passionate, profound story of love and obsession brings us back and forth in time, as a narrative is assembled from the emotions, hopes, fears, and deep realities of black urban life.
First notes: Joe shot his girlfriend but he isn’t being presented as a selfish controlling man. I don’t know what to do with that. Normal people don’t shot people they claim to love…
The wait for a resolution to this violent act was distracting as I read this novel.
“Sth, I know that woman. She used to live with a flock of birds on Lenox Avenue. Know her husband too. He fell for an eighteen-year-old girl with one of those deep-down, spooky loves that made him so sad and happy he shot her just to keep the feeling going.”
When I read the first lines of Jazz, I didn’t think the author was being serious with the “keep the feeling going” bit. However, as we delved into the stories of the various characters in this book, the narrative doesn’t change.
Joe is a “good man”. One of those men known to all and whom women naturally trust. His wife, Violet appears to have a recurring mental illness and since psychiatry isn’t a thing in this period, Joe decides he needs an understanding soul to be his true self with.
Of course, a relationship between a 50-year-old man and an 18-year-old girl isn’t built for the long-term but Joe doesn’t get this. When Dorcas tries to end things and goes partying with her friends, Joe shows up with a gun and shoots her.
Now, there’s a lot more to this book than that storyline but as this is what gets things moving, it’s hard to ignore how Joe never pays for his crime and continues to be referred to like guy he was before the incident. As if shooting someone you love is inconsequential and doesn’t change you fundamentally.
So, yeah I can’t appreciate the million other stories told in this book. Even if I found many of these interesting.
One thing I am curious about though, Who is the narrator? Anyone with an answer to this?
This book left a bitter taste in my mouth. The manner in which violence against women was glossed over in Jazz is unsettling.
I don’t want to sympathise or understand the mind of anybody who thinks its okay to act violently against people you “love”. Doesn’t matter how poetic the writing is or who the author is. This is the bulk of the story so it’s a no for me.