It is entirely within the realm of possibility that without Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, the world would never have gotten to read Gayl Jones’ novel Corregidora. At least, not exactly in the same form that it takes as a result of a world in which Jones was fortunate enough to find Morrison in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. The place was Random House and the time was that period of Morrison’s life between being a struggling author herself and becoming one of the world’s most respect novelists. It was during Morrison’s tenure as an acquisitions editor at the renowned publishing company that she became familiar with the manuscript written by a young, unpublished and utterly unknown writer that the woman who would eventually win the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved realized “that no novel about any black woman could ever be the same after this.”
What exactly was within the pages of Corregidora that Toni Morrison recognized as something unique and revolutionary? Was it the forthright examination of racism and its connection to sexual exploitation? Even as early as the novel’s publication in 1975 those two elements had come to be recognized as unfortunately intertwined parts of everyday life for a shameful number of black Americans. So, there must have been something in that manuscript beyond the narrative itself.
There was. What really sets Corregidora apart even from other highly regarded novels of equal intensity and craftsmanship about the African-American experience is the extraordinary means by which Jones matches with subject with style. One member of the title family of characters of novel, Ursa Corregidora, is a lady who sings the blues literally and professionally. Her story as well as other sharply humans who all manage to avoid becoming mere types is told by Jones in a way that feels as improvisational as musical performance and plays out with a structure and rhythm immediately recognizable to any fan of the blues genre. The utilization of repetition and the literary equivalent of music’s call-and-response all have the potential to become a little too precious or even to becoming annoying—at the very least to draw attention to themselves in a way that takes attention away from the narrative.
That none of the above actually happens is perhaps shocking. That the imprint of a very definite musical sensibility upon the manifestly literary form of the novel becomes integrated to the point where realization dawns that one could not practically exist in quite the same form with the other is nothing short of miraculous.