Friday, April 17, 2009

Dust Tracks On a Road, by Zora Neale Hurston

I'll start off by saying that Their Eyes Were Watching God by Ms. Hurston was a mind-blowing experience for me when I read it some years ago. I think it's a one off--not just in terms of Hurston's own works but in terms of all literary works anywhere. I have the deepest, most abiding respect for writers who not only know their material when they see it, but know what to do with it. No one else on earth could have written Their Eyes.... That was Zora's vocation. I have this kind of idea that writers who manage what she did with this book have reserved themselves a special place in heaven. Whether I believe in heaven or not is another matter.

Dust Tracks On a Road is not its peer. I cannot imagine how a memoir written by an imaginative writer really could be. Making this up as I go along, though with very little basis in fact whatsoever, I'd say that fiction writers resolve their pasts a little differently than memoirists--getting bogged down in 'mere facts' leads to trouble for them. Hurston's story is interesting enough as she describes the unique place where she was born--an all-black community in Florida--and the reasons that compel her to leave it behind her. But there are many moments in which she is not entirely candid with us--a strategy that probably had good reason to it at the time. However, this makes for a somewhat deceptive account of her adult life, and what is worse, in terms of the tale itself, it gets flatter and less insightful the further along she goes. My feeling about it, and about much autobiography quite frankly, is that the long ago past has been analyzed and distilled effectively, but the more recent past has not, and either can't or won't be.

I am not really trying to dissuade anyone from reading this book. It is lively and entertaining, and I doubt you'll be bored. But if you really want to find the voice of Zora, don't waste time. Go straight to Their Eyes Were Watching God and dive right in.

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