Song of Solomon (1977)
by Toni Morrison
One of the pleasures of a Toni Morrison is that she writes in the grand tradition of the 19th century novel. Which is not to call her technique unsophisticated. Morrison is a technician as well as a visionary, and this really comes into focus during Song of Solomon, the first Morrison novel in the 1001 Books list to be written largely about male, rather than female characters. Here, the protagonist is Macon "Milkman" Dead, the scion of an upwardly mobile African American family in small-town Pennsylvania. Like all of her novels, the characters are extraordinary in terms of their depths. Unlike her earlier works on the 1001 Books list, Morrison has Macon Dead take a straight journey through time. The story is a more-or-less conventional coming-of-age saga, albeit one adopted to the delayed adulthoods that many Americans experienced in the 20th century.
Song of Solomon was Morrison's commercial and critical breakthrough. It's hard not to think that some of this was due to her consciously "dumbing down" her style and writing a book with a man as a lead character. But like all of Morrison's books, petty criticisms are drowned by the overwhelming power of her work.