JANUARY 29

Toni Morrison is the “in” novelist. Everyone gives her props—from tight-ass Ivy League elites to middle-class semiliterates. How many writers can claim a Nobel and a Pulitzer, and an endorsement from Oprah to boot? Morrison was once simply the muse for angry, middle-class black women—the single, bookish 9-to-5er whose plight was ignored in the age of the “endangered black male.” Now she’s about as great a pop star as any respectable writer could expect to be. With her new novel, Paradise, Morrison is being praised by Time as “the author who single-handedly gave African-American women their rightful place in American literature.” Translation: Morrison is the first black female novelist whom white people have accorded a measure of respect. All this despite Morrison’s mind-boggling flair for undeveloped characters and plots. As a word-painter, Morrison displays genius; her language is hypodermically precise, and she pulls metaphors from the unlikeliest places. But her characters are often either shamelessly flat (why is nearly every male character in The Bluest Eye a child molester?) or unbelievably inconsistent (in Song of Solomon, a well-off father and son decide to rob the father’s dirt-poor sister). Riveting language allows Morrison, at times, to get away with incomplete portrayals and didactic feminist sermons, but poetics alone do not build great American novels. At 7 p.m. at the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, 1518 M St. NW. $5. For reservations call Vertigo Books at (202) 429-9272. (Ta-Nehisi Coates)