I chose Sula as my first introduction to Toni Morrison’s work because it was slimmer, lighter, and—apparently—easier to understand than her more famous and acclaimed novels, but now that I’ve finished the last chapter I find myself wondering if this book is really representative of Morrison’s greater oeuvre. The plot sounds deceptively peaceful: young black Sula leaves her small hometown behind as she heads off to be educated, and upon her return ten years later (a significant gap in the novel’s chronology), she’s estranged and distrusted by her former friends. You can’t call Sula “peaceful,” though, because Morrison fills its pages with wanton, almost casual violence and death. A mother soaks her son’s mattress in gasoline and sets it alight; a woman burns to death trying to light a yard fire; a little boy slips from his friends’ fingers and falls into the lake, never resurfaces. Hard as I try, I can’t reconcile these near-constant, near-faceless deaths with the practices of “good novel-writing” that I’m used to, and so for the moment Sula seems more off-putting and grim than I’d wish. Maybe someday, when I’m more familiar with the rest of Morrison’s novels, I’ll be able to return to Sula and appreciate, or at least understand, its pervading sense of randomness and cruelty.