The [novel's] purpose seems to be communication of painfully discovered and powerfully held convictions about the possibility of transcendence within human life . . . .The end is unresolved. Does Milkman survive[?] . . . .Few Americans . . .can say more than she has in this wise and spacious novel. The New York TimesSeptember 111977
The ordinary spars with the extraordinary in Morrison's books. What would be a classically tragic sensibility, with its implacable move toward crisis and the extremes of pity and horror, is altered and illuminated by a thousand smaller, natural occurrences and circumstances.
Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison's lyrical third novel, begins with an arresting scene -- a man on a roof threatening to jump, a woman standing on the ground, singing, and another woman entering labor. The child born of that labor is Macon "Milkman" Dead III; Song of Solomon is the epic story of his life-time journey toward an understanding of his own identity and ancestry. Milkman is born burdened with the materialistic values of his father and the weight of a racist society; over the course of his odyssey he reconnects to his deeper family values and history, rids himself of the burden of his father's expectations and society's limitations, and literally learns to fly.
When the novel opens, Milkman is clearly a man with little or no concern for others. Like his father, he is driven only by his immediate sensual needs; he is spoiled and self-centered and pursues money and sexual gratification at all costs. The novel centers around his search for a lost bag of gold that was allegedly taken from a man involved in his grandfather's murder and then abandoned by his Aunt Pilate. The search for gold takes Milkman and his friend Guitar, a young black militant, to Shalimar, a town named for his great-grandfather Solomon, who according to local legend escaped slavery by taking flight back to Africa on the wind. On his journey, under the influence of his Aunt Pilate, a strong, fearless, natural woman whose values are the opposite of Milkman's father's, Milkman begins to come to terms with his family history, his role as a man, and the possibilities of his life apart from a cycle of physical lust and satisfaction.
In telling the story of Milkman's quest to discover the hidden history of the Deads, Morrison expertly weaves together elements of myth, magic, and folklore. She grapples with fundamental issues of class and race, ancestry and identity, while never losing sight of Milkman's compelling story. The language in Song of Solomon, Morrison's only novel with a male protagonist, is earthy and poetic, the characters eccentric, and the detail vivid and convincing. The result is a novel that is at once emotionally intense, provocative, and inspiring in its description of how one man rediscovered the latent power within him.
Song of Solomon is considered to be Toni Morrison's masterpiece and is in the top echelon of literary works produced by any American writer. It is also her breakthrough novel in both critical and commercial success: It was the first African American novel since Native Son to be a main selection of the Book of the Month club and it won the prestigious National Book Critics Circle Award among others. The book received a second life, and best-seller status, twenty years after its initial publication when talk show host Oprah Winfrey announced it as a selection for her on-air book club.
A stunningly beautiful book…I would call the book poetry, but that would seem to be denying its considerable power as a story. Whatever name you give it, it's full of magnificent people, each of them complex and multi layered, even the narrowest of them narrow in extravagant ways.
Anne Tyler, Washington Post Book World
“A rich, full novel. . . . It lifts us up [and] impresses itself upon us like a love affair.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Exuberant. . . . An artistic vision that encompasses both a private and national heritage.”
“A rhapsodic work. . . . Intricate and inventive.” —The New Yorker
“Stunningly beautiful. . . . Full of magnificent people. . . . They are still haunting my house. I suspect they will be with me forever.” —Anne Tyler, The Washington Post
“If Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man went underground, Toni Morrison’s Milkman flies.” —John Leonard, The New York Times Book Review
“It places Toni Morrison in the front rank of contemporary American writers. She has written a novel that will endure.” —The Washington Post
“Lovely. . . . A delight, full of lyrical variety and allusiveness. . . . [An] exceptionally diverse novel.” —The Atlantic Monthly
“Morrison is a terrific storyteller. . . . Her writing evokes the joyful richness of life.” —Newsday
“Morrison dazzles. . . . She creates a black community strangely unto itself yet never out of touch with the white world. . . . With an ear as sharp as glass she has listened to the music of black talk and uses it as a palette knife to create black lives and to provide some of the best fictional dialogue around today.” —The Nation
“A marvelous novel, the most moving I have read in ten years of reviewing.” —Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Toni Morrison has created a fanciful world here. . . . She has an impeccable sense of emotional detail. She’s the most sensible lyrical writer around today.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
“A fine novel exuberantly constructed. . . . So rich in its use of common speech, so sophisticated in its use of literary traditions and language from the Bible to Faulkner . . . it is also extremely funny.” —The Hudson Review
“Toni Morrison is an extraordinarily good writer. Two pages into anything she writes one feels the power of her language and the emotional authority behind that language. . . . One closes the book warmed through by the richness of its sympathy, and by its breathtaking feel for the nature of sexual sorrow.” —The Village Voice
“Morrison moves easily in and out of the lives and thoughts of her characters, luxuriating in the diversity of circumstances and personality, and revelling in the sound of their voices and of her own, which echoes and elaborates theirs.” —The New Yorker