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Jazz (1992)

by Toni Morrison

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4,926642,203 (3.66)289
In the winter of 1926, when everybody everywhere sees nothing but good things ahead, Joe Trace, middle-aged door-to-door salesman of Cleopatra beauty products, shoots his teenage lover to death. At the funeral, Joe's wife, Violet, attacks the girl's corpse. This passionate, profound story of love and obsession brings us back and forth in time, as a narrative is assembled from the emotions, hopes, fears, and deep realities of black urban life.… (more)
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» See also 289 mentions

English (59)  Italian (1)  German (1)  All languages (61)
Showing 1-5 of 59 (next | show all)
Having read Beloved for the second time last year, I decided to read the other two books in the trilogy. Jazz is the second. There are two narrators, both unnamed, who tell the central story and its digressions from different perspectives that seem to contradict each other at times. Ms. Morrison’s usual lyricism, even exaggerated a little here, mimics the beat of jazz music and seems to provide a wordless subtext, like an epic poem.

In the mid 1920s, Violet and her husband, Joe, are in the beauty business. Violet is an in-home hairdresser and Joe is a door-to-door cosmetics salesman. Although he is usually a dependable man, Joe falls obsessively in love with a teenager named Dorcas. When Dorcas’s passion for Joe begins to cool, Joe shoots and kills her. “He fell for an eighteen-year-old girl with one of those deepdown, spooky loves that made him so sad and happy he shot her just to keep the feeling going.” At Dorcas's funeral, in a fit of jealous rage, Violet slashes the dead girl's face with a knife while she is laid out in her coffin. Weeks later, Violet starts visiting Dorcas’s aunt and these visits become a regular occurrence. Meanwhile, Joe is lost in grief for his dead lover, but he is not arrested for her murder.

Despite the beautiful writing, this is not my favorite work by Ms. Morrison. I found the competing narrators to be a bit confusing. I read the paperback I have had for years while listening to the audiobook narrated by Ms. Morrison, whose expressive and soothing voice I could listen to forever.
( )
  bschweiger | Feb 4, 2024 |
Had to read for class. Basically like reading a book backward - the end was what held my interest the most. If we knew what transpired to get the characters to how they are in the beginning, it would've been a much more coherent novel. As it was it was far too poetic and flowery, many phrases seemingly put in as some sort of message to the reader about how awful people can be, or how life is just what it is: awful, apparently.

Really had to read whole pages over again to understand what was going on, and we never do find out who the narrator is telling the story - gives the whole novel a very 'outside looking in' feel that could've been handled better had the narrator actually have been shown as a character who survived, and who was telling us what transpired. At the very least, I would have felt more invested in the characters and story (there is no real plot), rather than just a vague sense that I 'should' care, but can't. 3 stars for the ending alone, otherwise it'd be a 1. ( )
  writingvampires | Jan 30, 2023 |
From the book’s description: “In the winter of 1926, when everybody everywhere sees nothing but good things ahead, Joe Trace, middle-aged door-to-door salesman of Cleopatra beauty products, shoots his teenage lover to death. At the funeral, Joe’s wife, Violet, attacks the girl’s corpse. This passionate, profound story of love and obsession brings us back and forth in time, as a narrative is assembled from the emotions, hopes, fears, and deep realities of black urban life.”

This story is told by two unnamed narrators, one following the other. Their perspectives are in conflict, leaving the reader to wonder which, if either, is correct. It is told in a stream of consciousness style. It seems to be variations on a theme, which is typical of jazz music, and can be felt in lyrical and rhythmic passages such as:

“So why is it on Thursday that the men look satisfied? Perhaps it’s the artificial rhythm of the week — perhaps there is something so phony about the seven-day cycle the body pays no attention to it, preferring triplets, duets, quartets, anything but a cycle of seven that has to be broken into human parts and the break comes on Thursday.”

This is the second book of a trilogy, starting with Beloved (during and just after slavery), progressing to Jazz (during the Harlem Renaissance and Great Migration), and ending in Paradise (establishing a black community before and during the Civil Rights era). Each may be read as a standalone, but together, they offer an overview of American black history via fiction. My personal order of preference is Paradise, then Beloved, and then Jazz. I can appreciate its literary merit, but I prefer a more straightforward approach.
( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
Joe and Violet are in the business of beauty. Joe sells cosmetics door to door and his wife is a home-visiting hairdresser. Usually a straight up and dependable man, Joe falls in obsessive love with a teenager named Dorcas. His passion for Dorcas forces him to kill her. At her funeral, in a fit of jealous insanity Joe's wife, Violet, attempts to slash the dead girl's face while she lay in her coffin. Violent Violet then goes home to free all of her pet birds. Her rage makes her human. The smartest character in the book is the City. I like the way the City makes people think they can do whatever they want and get away with it. The culture is full of passions, both right and wrong. Jazz will also take you back to July 1917, a time when Grandmother True Belle (great name) was afraid of Springfield, Massachusetts. Morrison's vivid descriptions of culture are breathtaking. ( )
  SeriousGrace | May 23, 2022 |
"Don't ever think that I fell for you, or fell over you. I didn't fall in love, I rose in it."

'Jazz' opens in 1926 Harlem and Morrison looks at broken families and lives using a tragic love triangle. Middle-aged Joe Trace meets eighteen-year-old Dorcas whilst selling cosmetics at her aunt’s home and begins an affair with her. Months later when Dorcas begins to tire of him, Joe shoots her dead. Violet. Joe's wife, attends the funeral and slashes the dead girl’s face with a knife. But then weeks later Violet starts visiting Dorcas’s aunt and these visits become a regular occurrence. Meanwhile, Joe who isn't arrested for the murder is lost in grief for his dead lover.

The plot flips from various perspectives and tenses, connecting the love triangle's participants' past and present. In doing so Morrison creates a web of fractured identities as we are shown the same tragic events from differing standpoints and the motivations behind them.

I loved the writing and felt that the storytelling read like a long and beautiful poem. But, you have to really focus on it otherwise its easy to lose the thread. 'Jazz' is undoubtedly a piece of literary art but personally I didn't feel that it was as powerful as the previous novel by the author that I read, 'Beloved', and consequently I felt compelled to mark it down. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Mar 1, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 59 (next | show all)
A tale of love, death, beauty, murder and obsession...told in a free-form syncopated prose so rhythmic that you can almost imagine Nina Simone singing it

added by vibesandall | editWeek, James Runcie
 
Morrison’s writing of a black romance pays its debt to blues music, the rhythms and the melancholy pleasures of which she has so magically transformed into a novel

added by vibesandall | editLondon Review of Books
 
Jazz blazes with an intensity more usually found in tragic poetry of the past, not in fiction today.... Morrison's voice transcends colour and creed and she has become one of America's outstanding post-war writers... A great storyteller, her characters have amazing and terrible pasts - they must find them out, or be haunted by them

added by vibesandall | editGuardian
 
A great storyteller
added by vibesandall | editGuardian
 
Transforms a familiar refrain of jilted love into a bold, sustaining time of self-knowledge and discovery. Its rhythms are infectious.
added by vibesandall | editPeople
 

» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Toni Morrisonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Cavagnoli, FrancaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vink, NettieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
I am the name of the sound
and the sound of the name.
I am the sign of the letter
and the designation of the division.
"Thunder, Perfect Mind," The Nag Hammadi
Dedication
For RW and George
First words
Sth, I know that woman.
Quotations
What good are secrets if you can't talk to anybody about them?
It's nice when grown people whisper to each other under the covers. Their ecstasy is more leaf-sigh than bray and the body is the vehicle, not the point. They reach, grown people, for something beyond and way, way down underneath tissue.
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Wikipedia in English (1)

In the winter of 1926, when everybody everywhere sees nothing but good things ahead, Joe Trace, middle-aged door-to-door salesman of Cleopatra beauty products, shoots his teenage lover to death. At the funeral, Joe's wife, Violet, attacks the girl's corpse. This passionate, profound story of love and obsession brings us back and forth in time, as a narrative is assembled from the emotions, hopes, fears, and deep realities of black urban life.

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