If we're talking about women centric stories than we have to talk about 'Sula'
During the past year we’ve seen the success and depth of women centric stories on TV, movies and podcasts, I’ve loved the tales of the dubious women from the “Big, Little Lies” universe and the oomf and gumption of southern storytelling in “Sharp Objects” (both based on books), and while this is all well and good we’re still missing an important thread in the fabric of stories, and it sadly, yet unsurprisingly, comes as no shock that stories about people of color are still lacking in mainstream American culture.
While I throw my support and gratitude behind the ever evolving tale of women, I’d be remiss to truly partake in its growth without giving a nod to the stories that have been written decades ago but have gone unnoticed due to time decay, modernity, and the burying of stories about women of color specifically— so, if we’re going to talk about women centric stories than we have to talk about Toni Morrison’s 1973 novel “Sula.”
“Sula,” named after its main character, tells the tale of a small African-American community in Ohio called the Bottom between 1922 and 1965. We meet two girls whose lives are entirely opposite. Sula Peace grows up in a boarding house among a cast of wild, larger-than-life characters, whereas Nel Wright is the goody-two-shoes of the pair and resides in a stricter more conventional household. And despite their differences they become inseparable friends.
Before we get into the crux of the plot, I have to note, and ladies you know what I’m talking about here, women’s friendships are deep, your friends are your life line, we bear our souls to our group of close girlfriends and as a result create bonds rooted in trust, respect, motivation, encouragement and love.
These are the girls that have your back in a drunken bar fight and will help you cry or dance it out when you’re in need, they are there for you when your potential lover walks into your life and are still there long after he or she has gone or, for inclusivity’s sake, they are also still there long after you’re still with him or her living happily ever after — or whatever. And crossing those lines of friendship into betrayal leaves a distinct and unforgettable mark on the stories of women.
Eventually Sula leaves the Bottom for 10 years while Nel stays behind, gets married and goes on to have a family of her own. When Sula makes her reappearance into the town’s life her return is negatively received and she becomes the town pariah because of her unconventional behavior, independence but Nel remains her only ally — until she sleeps with Nel’s husband. As you can imagine, their friendship is destroyed.
Years later when Sula is on her deathbed they have a sort of reconciliation and eventually Nel mourns the death of her best friend and laments on the times they spent together and all the time they didn’t.
Morrison’s novel encompasses so much more than the main storyline, she sheds light on black soldiers coming back to the United States from WWI, the dire constraints of living in poverty coupled with the strength of community and survival, race relations, motherhood, small town morality and more. I could say that every book I post on this site is a must-read, but “Sula” is the type of book that takes you on a narrow journey through a world that in many ways still exists just in new forms and examines the place of woman in a society, their interactions, mannerisms, traditions and social acceptabilities, it then rips them to shreds with one character and leaves you wanting more, just like Nel.