Sunday, 31 August 2014

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.

At least the writer made an effort to begin her book with a pithy sentence that establishes mood. Next:

For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.

Philosophy will hook some, but really this bit of text is not really telling me anything I don't already know, it's just packaging it nice and neat with an analogy.

Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.

Then an introduction of a character with conflict.

So the beginning of this was a woman and she had come back from burying the dead. Not the dead of sick and ailing with friends at the pillow and the feet. She had come back from the sodden and the bloated; the sudden dead, their eyes flung wide open in judgment.

The people all saw her come because it was sundown. The sun was gone, but he had left his footprints in the sky. It was the time for sitting on porches beside the road. It was the time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human. They became lords of sounds and lesser things. They passed nations through their mouths. They sat in judgment.

Seeing the woman as she was made them remember the envy they had stored up from other times. So they chewed up the back parts of their minds and swallowed with relish. They made burning statements with questions, and killing tools out of laughs. It was mass cruelty. A mood come alive. Words walking without masters; walking altogether like harmony in a song.

First thing said:

“What she doin’ coming back here in dem overhalls?

This comes earlier on, on page 1-2. So this is nice, that dialogue comes so soon. Let the characters tell their story through their own words and deeds,  and as soon as possible always helps to hook a reader. Unfortunately there is a lot of dialect which isn't much fun to read. But it would make the audio book more entertaining.

Verdict: Pass

I'll give this opening a pass for the title and the simplicity of the text in the opening pages, despite the preamble, which is not long. As well, there is some conflict kicking around here.

This is part of the series: the top 100 novels from Daniel S. Burt's book called Novel 100, the top 100 novels of all time. There is debate of course as to what should be on that list, but his opinions are as good as any. Their Eyes Were Watching God ranks as the 83rd greatest novel of all time.

Theodore Moracht

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