I daresay, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (published 1937), is a prime example of a book I would never have experienced without the gentle encouragement of this group. The novel is related through a Southern Black dialect by an anonoymous narrator, telling the story of its main protagonist, Janie. The narrative takes place over approximately twenty-five years and describes Janie’s marriages with three different men. The first two relationships leave her unfulfilled, but she finds true love and a sense of spiritual enlightenment as an individual through the third marriage. The book was out of print for some years and was for a time condemned for its lack of political comment. It’s true, the book has no particular moral or political agenda, nor does it make any strong statement about race, although it certainly touches on race issues; it does however powerfully depict the struggle of the protagonist as an individual to inhabit her own voice. I have never read another novel that is anything remotely like Their Eyes Were Watching God, and in this respect it is unique. The book does however have some flaws, and a number of passages that I felt might have read so much better had they been whittled down - the mule dialogue for instance. The book does however contain some wonderfully poetic images that managed to fill my head with pictures as I read.
The years took all the fight out of Janie’s face. For a while she thought it was gone from her soul. No matter what Jody did, she said nothing. She had learned how to talk some and leave some. She was a rut in the road. Plenty of life beneath the surface but it was kept beaten down by the wheels. Sometimes she stuck out into the future, imagining her life different from what it was. But mostly she lived between her hat and her heels, with her emotional disturbances like shade patterns in the woods - come and gone with the sun. She got nothing from Jody except what money could buy, and she was giving away what she didn’t value.
Unique. Poetic. Definitely worth reading.