Jean Toomer is the Author of Cane
I came across this book for three dollars at a Lebanese restaurant in the McGill ghetto of Montreal. It was worth every penny, and proves that you can find good books for affordable prices.
Jean Toomer was a genius. Cane is part of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s. This book has influenced such writers as Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Eric Walrond, Zora Neale Hurston, Wallace Thurman, Rudolph Fisher and his other contemporaries of the 20s. When reading the book, there is no wonder that it had a tremendous impact, and should be revisted for some reasons I will point out now.
The book is unique in style. A combination of short stories, with poetry which all have an undercurrent of the racism that existed during the 20s. Toomer himself was a mixed race man, living a borderline life between the black and white worlds, and his characters are sometimes white, sometimes black, probably reflecting his inner feelings.
There’s Esther who lusts after a black man who had a religious experience in the street and she spends years pining for him. And then there’s Becky who had two Negro sons who live in a house by the road and no one knows whether she’s dead or alive.
He writes of sorrow such as this between blacks and whites, but also of beauty of women, and the ugliness of women. For a man, he writes women well.
His description of people and places is so lively, it is like the book is a TV screen where you can hear and see. Here’s one example from his poetry, this one called « Face »:
Like streams of stars,
Quivered by the ripples blown by pain,
Mist of tears
Condensing on the flesh below
And her channeled muscles
Are cluster grapes of sorrow
Purple in the evening sun
Nearly ripe for worms.
His imaginary is startling. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand the desperation of living with the race relations of the 20s of the United States. Also just anyone who loves good writing. The sentences are short and clear. He wastes no words to strengthen his point. Just like chewing on sugar cane strengthens the teeth. Cane.