In a neighborhood where pain -- "adult pain that rested somewhere under the eyelids" -- is as pervasively omnipresent as the loveliness of May's green shade trees, death and its omens can be accepted as another face of God. But in the closed black community of the high hill overlooking a white Ohio town, there are two who stand outside the defensive webs of familial interdependence. There is mad Shadrach, victim of World War I, who defies death's capricious obscenity by ringing his bell for National Suicide Day every year -- and one year he has some takers. And Sula, who will die, not like "other colored girls" rotting like a stump, but falling "like a redwood." For she is the product of a "household of throbbing disorder" and had learned isolation and the "meaningless of responsibility" early when she accidentally caused the drowning of a little boy. Intemperate, restless, Sula had some of the arrogance of her one-legged grandmother Eva. It was Eva who had long ago pondered the meaning of love when she used her only food (lard scrapings) to cure her baby boy's bellyache; yet when her son was a man, regressing to the womb of drugs, she burnt him to death. Sula also watched her mother die in flames, conscious only that she wanted the dying dance to go on. She left the village and returns to become the community's unifying evil -- but will the people eventually love one who stood against the sky? Miss Morrison, author of The Bluest Eye (1970) in her deceptively gentle narrative, her dialogue that virtually speaks from the page, and her multilayered perceptions drawn through the needle's eye of any consciousness she creates, is undoubtedly a major and formidable talent, and this is an impressive second novel.