cover image Recitatif: A Story

Recitatif: A Story

Toni Morrison. Knopf, $16 (96p) ISBN 978-0-593-31503-3

Originally published in 1983, this stunning work from Nobel laureate Morrison (God Help the Child) follows two women who share a tenuous bond after meeting at an orphanage at eight in the 1950s. As Zadie Smith notes in an illuminating introduction, Morrison (1931–2019) chose not to reveal the race of either character, just that one is Black and one is white. Twyla and Roberta connect over a shared sense of rejection after their single mothers were unable to take care of them. Morrison then jumps forward to the late ’60s with Twyla as a young woman working at a Howard Johnson’s near Kingston, N.Y., where Roberta comes in with a musician boyfriend who supposedly has an “appointment” with Jimi Hendrix. During their awkward exchange, she mocks Twyla for not knowing who Hendrix is. Twelve years later, Twyla is married and living in segregated Newburgh, where she again sees Roberta while shopping at an upscale grocery store. Roberta now lives across the river in fancy Annandale, and she insists Twyla join her for coffee, then brings up a violent incident from the orphanage. Eventually, she accuses Twyla of committing an act of racial violence. The author’s experiment pays off brilliantly, forcing the reader to consider racial stereotypes while also providing an indelible story. The gravitas and unparalleled skill found in Morrison’s best-known work is on full display in this compact powerhouse. (Feb.)