Morrison’s Paradise: Online, and Beyond

One of the first things that struck me about Morrison’s Paradise when I first held it in my hands was the sticker on the front referencing Oprah’s book club. While we have had incredible discussions on Paradise this semester, it led me to wonder how the book was received by non-academic readers–people reading Morrison’s work for fun, outside of the classroom atmosphere we have grown used to. 

When I looked further into this, I saw that Oprah’s website had written up a guide for book clubs reading Paradise, where she encourages readers to think critically about the text and praises all that Morrison does. One of the other (few) online reviews of the novel that I found was, surprisingly, at odds with such positive views on Paradise; columnist Michiko Kakutani praises Beloved but then adds “Paradise is everything that Beloved was not: it’s a heavy-handed, schematic piece of writing, thoroughly lacking in the novelistic magic Ms. Morrison has wielded so effortlessly in the past. It’s a contrived, formulaic book that mechanically pits men against women, old against young, the past against the present.” I can’t help but feel like such an interpretation clashes with the discussions I’ve had with others in class, where many of us have found so much more in what Morrison does with categories like gender, age, and race. Morrison so rigidly divides social groups in this novel because that’s precisely how the real world works as well, and she intends to draw attention to it and consequently, criticize it.
I came upon this review when I first started reading the book, as I was interested in what others were saying about it. I quite agree with Taylor, who wrote in her most recent blog post that there is very little scholarly work available on the matter online, so I postponed my search, filed Kakutani’s opinion in the back of my mind, and began reading, intending to address his criticism once I had a more thorough understanding of the book–but no amount of solitary reflection or discussion of the work with my peers has allowed me to align myself with Kakutani’s position in any way. While Morrison does very heavily rely on categorizing the characters of her novel, that isn’t something new to the world. If Paradise is “contrived” and “formulaic,” then the real world must be too.

Reflecting on this now at the end of the semester saddens me even more, specifically because there really are so few online resources for readers of the book, other than ones like these. We have been so fortunate to look at the novels through a very stimulating and thought-provoking lens, and to think that others outside of academia may be reading Morrison’s work in such a reductive way is disappointing, to say the least. I notice myself continually returning to Morrison’s “…Say make me, remake me. You are free to do it and I am free to let you because look, look. Look where your hands are. Now,” (229) as I’ve written about in a previous post of mine–but I can’t help it. We certainly are free to interpret Morrison’s work however we like–as is the nature of not only literature, but art as a whole–but I hope that as time progresses, more online columnists share opinions appreciating the nuance in Paradise and push back against the more reductive interpretations of her art.

Personally, I’m very grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to join the online conversation this semester.

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