Brittney's Reviews > Jazz
by Toni Morrison
An affair, murder, violence, loss and love are all themes Toni Morrison blends with the skill of a musician in Jazz. Published in 1992, the novel took place in the 1920s, in the prime era of jazz. Joe Trace, a door-to-door cosmetics salesman has an affair with Dorcas, a young girl who thrives on attention and affection. In a fit of jealousy, Joe kills Dorcas, who will not speak or see him anymore. At the young girl's funeral, Joe's wife, Violet, is overtaken by another being she terms that girl as she attempts to stab the corpse's face.
However, this is merely the background of the story. In the jazz tradition of call and response, the characters examine the death of Dorcas from varying perspectives. Although using a technique mirroring the title creates unreliable narrators, each character not only reveals parts of the truth in his or her reflections, but also reveals personal truths in discovering the character's actions toward the progression toward and from Dorcas' death.
The style of jazz paralleled Morrison's narrative technique in this novel with an outside narrator that gradually slips into the character's minds and bodies, transforming the "I" as the story careens and veers over the notes. Several sections also reflect jazz improvisation as the focus hones in on one character's thoughts, dialogue and actions. The shift to improvisation occurs throughout the novel, but the rapid shifts at the end create suspense into the final scene between Joe and Violet.
Morrison, well-versed in all forms of story-telling and narrative styles, conquers this harrowing piece of literature and makes it sing.
"I started out believing that life was made just so the world would have some way to think about itself, but that it had gone awry with humans because flesh, pinioned by misery, hangs on to it with pleasure... I don't believe that anymore." p. 228 Jazz