Emily M Keeler, Booksde Table, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were Watching God is by far the most emotionally moving novel I have read this year. And that’s saying a lot, after The Optimist’s Daughter and Tracks. Because I came to read this book having read some of Zora Neale Hurston’s anthropological writing, I was anticipating great detail and dialogue. I was not ready for the thunderous love that spilled off these pages. Even if I had been warned, I don’t think I could’ve felt prepared.

Hurston’s prose is absolutely dazzling! This is the stuff that James Wood dreams about. Never have I felt closer to the way that characters feel, to the smallness and the biggness of their mysterious inner workings. Janie and Tea Cake and the people of Eatonville and the muck are so alive and kicking that I feel like I must be a walking bruise from having spent the past few days dancing and wrestling with them. I feel like they’re under my skin and in my breath. Hurston makes it easy, dropping prose bombs like flower petals.

They sat there in the fresh darkness close together. Pheoby eager to feel and do through Janie, but hating to show her zest for fear it might be thought mere curiosity. Janie full of that oldest human longing–self revelation.

For such a little book, it’s depth is nothing short of astounding. Janie, always Janie, has her heart broken by her family, by men, and by the tension between the degrees of whiteness and blackness that surrounds her. Her capacity for love, the real stuff of it, buoys her above her circumstance, and though she’s sweet she is never naive. She is steeped in so much charm that it almost hurts to think of her as a character in a novel rather than a woman who has lived all of time through the love that she alone can give.

There is so so much in this book. I can’t even believe it. I feel almost ripped off that I haven’t read this earlier, that I haven’t known Tea Cake and Janie for my whole life.

But see for yourself:

She knew that God tore down the old world every evening and built a new one by sun-up. It was wonderful to see it take form with the sun and emerge from the gray dust of its making. The familiar people and things had failed her so she hung over the gate and looked up the road towards way off… Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman.

Janie meets with despair and comes through it like a candle in a dark room, glowing and warm. Her light will shine on as long as Their Eyes Were Watching God can be read and re-read, agressively and tenderly, in all the forms that love can take.