Road map keeps you right on course

As the title would suggest, Ron David’s Toni Morrison Explained: A Reader’s Road Map to the Novels takes readers on a thorough literary journey, albeit with a few bumps and twists along the way.

In this non-fiction work, David undertakes the heady task of walking "very naïve readers and experts alike" through each of Morrison’s novels. David provides not only his own interpretations, but also supplies the preliminary tools needed to make a critical literary analysis. Before they can benefit from his work, however, readers will have to learn to ignore his often grating efforts to prove that he is smarter than the average bear.

David comes across as excessively harsh towards alternate criticisms, even implying in his introduction that they use large words in order to mask the fact that they have no new ideas. Despite claiming that his interpretations are not necessarily correct, David does loudly assert that critics who view Morrison’s works negatively, or whose opinions do not agree with his own, misinterpreted what they read. David repeatedly engages in "unrelieved gushing" while describing Morrison’s writing, a practice he condemns in other writers. At separate points in the novel, David describes Morrison not only as a "breathtakingly beautiful," writer, but as the most magical thing to have grown out of the Earth.

Despite tooting his own horn too frequently, David offers even the most casual readers an introduction to literary criticism. David’s explanations of Morrison’s novels are relevant and useful to readers forming their own interpretations. Each chapter is devoted to the exploration of one novel, and includes various tools to aid readers. One such tool, the sidebar, offers everything from a definition of terms, to background information, to direct passages from Morrison’s novels. Also included in each chapter are quotes from other critics and even Morrison herself, offering their own views on the novels. Perhaps most useful, however, is the brief biography illustrating pivotal moments in Morrison’s life and how they led to her career as a Nobel Prize-winning author.

Ultimately, David provides readers with all the tools necessary to read and enjoy Toni Morrison’s novels. Despite a few bumps along the way, this road is one worth taking.

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