Picks and Pans Review: Paradise

UPDATED 01/19/1998 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 01/19/1998 at 01:00 AM EST

by Toni Morrison

Escaping their separate histories of rootlessness, trouble and grief, a group of women—the flawed, unlikely heroines of Paradise, Toni Morrison's new novel—find shelter in a former nunnery still called the Convent by their neighbors in an all-black Oklahoma town. The book opens in the 1970s with a brutal mob attack on four of the Convent's women; then the plot moves backward in time to explain how the women arrived at their ill-starred refuge and how the townspeople's view of them—as a contagiously immoral and ultimately intolerable force—led to this act of searing violence. Everything is resonant here: The most casual gestures are informed by the facts (and myths) of gender and race, by our notions of civilization and lawlessness, body and spirit, Christianity and witchcraft. Morrison's lyrical prose displays great confidence in her readers' intelligence, demands their unflagging attention and rewards them generously—with a memorable work of epic range and monumental ambition. (Knopf, $25)

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