After going on a Toni Morrison book spree, Jazz is the first one of her books I’ve read. My first thoughts after reading a couple of chapters was: where is this book taking me? which character is the main focus here? And who is the narrator?
The book summarised
Jazz is set in the 1920s America (mostly Harlem). The story meanders through people’s lives, showing how multiple characters can be effected by a single event, in this case the murder of 18 year old Docas’. We hear from the voices affected by her death, including her killers; the woman who nurtured her; and Dorcas’ best friend (just to name a few). All these voices show the affect Dorcas has had on their lives, through flash backs and revealing layers of the characters.
Sounds silly, but I was still left wondering why the book was called Jazz, since there is no direct connection with what I know as Jazz. After a little research on the word Jazz, I read a quote by trombonist J. J. Johnson who said,
“Jazz (music) is restless. It won’t stay put and it never will”,
I felt that was an explanation of the novel. Toni Morrison gives a constant story after the other, with each characters story being equally important. I felt the need to hear all their journeys and stories. It was also a book where you could read a sentence and completely nod in agreement. Toni Morrison incorporates the rules of Jazz music into the novel.
The book revolves around the city, and each characters intake on the city. Whether living in the city of the 1920s, 1990s or 2014 you can truly agree with many of the, let’s call them ‘city quotes’, making the book timeless. The characters represent different types of city barriers. E.g Alice had man troubles, that affected many choices she made and she never put herself first; Dorcas felt she could do whatever she wanted, that didn’t leave a good ending; and Joe was what you would call a good guy, cleaning shoes and selling cosmetics was good enough for him to get by, but he was still not satisfied.
Toni Morrison is known for her poetic style which was defiantly emphasised in this book (I mean you could take out parts and they would make individual poems). Jazz was not the easiest book to read, it took time to digest certain parts. The narrator of the story was not clear, often being switched between first and second person, the owner of the voice is never revealed, it is literally as if someone who you’ve met passing by, is telling you the story of these people.
Jazz is a book I would recommend to those who appreciate poetry, it does trigger your mind, what you would call food for thought. It is beautifully written and needs some patience to get through.
Sometimes listening to a friend’s memory isn’t always simple since you were never there, but you just have to be patient enough to connect the dots together as they recollect different memories from their lives, then the fuzzy image of that person slowly comes together as their story.