on May 8, 2012
I read in a review that "Toni never puts language above story." I agree with that statement 100%, and the prioritizing of story is on full display in Home. This is a short book, but very fertile. How can she pack so much, in so thin a volume. The themes she touches on, each could be a full novel on its' own.
Frank Money has returned from the Korean war, with a deep secret. He has covered this secret with mourning the lost of his two best friends, a "mourning..so thick it completely covered my shame." Frank and his sister Cee were close growing up, he four years older than her, acted as a big brother should. And his going off to war created a physical separation, but not a division of affection.
So, after the war and despite his struggling with post traumatic stress and using alcohol to self heal and exorcise the war demons, when he hears his sister is in danger, he does not hesitate to make his way toward her and.... To say more would give away too much.
The use of Frank addressing not only the reader but the author as well was marvelous. This was done, a few times briefly to kind of comment on how the story was unfolding to illustrious effect. The language in this book is simply beautiful, and for some reason it doesn't feel unfinished, as most short novels do. And the ending is brought full circle back to the beginning, all this in under 150 pages. In fact, the reading guide at the end brings up so many good questions you will be astonished as to how one could create that many queries in a short book.
Can't think of a better way to spend a couple of hours. This may well be the best novel you read all year. You will be greatly rewarded for taking that time!
on May 9, 2012
"Frank and Cee, like some forgotten Hansel and Gretel, locked hands as they navigated the silence and tried to imagine a future."
Toni Morrison's Home is a surprisingly lean novel from a major American author known for her complex and elliptical style. Home is even more lean and minimal than Morrison's brilliant Sula, which she wrote forty years ago. For some reason, I yearned for the Morrison who wrote Song of Solomon or Paradise, which is Morrison at her most complex and perhaps her most sublime. That isn't to say Home is a failed effort, but perhaps it's a passive, more subdued effort, one which does not give us the feeling her greatest books have given us.
Home tells the story of Frank Money and his experience "home" after The Korean War. He lost both his homeboys, Michael and Stuff, in the war. In a character reminiscent of Virginia Woolf's Septimus Warren Smith or perhaps even Morrison's own Shadrack, Money suffers re-adapting into American society. He fought for a racist country which still segregated and refused to acknowledge his duty to his country. He "loiters" around, which causes suspicion from cops. He wanders aimlessly, not quite sure about his own self, which is haunted by images from the past. He breeds shame from an incident that happened in Korea (I won't say what), masking it with visible and palpable anger. Money eventually tries to become more active as a man when he receives a letter from Sarah that his sister, Ycidra, called Cee, "...best be dead if you tarry." Cee is gradually dying in the hands of a strange physician Dr. Scott, who is perhaps involved in experimentation dealing with "eugenics." This propels the journey "home" for both Frank and Cee as they travel their way back to Lotus, Georgia, finding their way home like when Hansel and Gretel were lost in the forest after being abandoned by their parents. The place where they grew up, which they hated as restless and yearning children, becomes a place for redemption for the both of them.
What I found interesting about this novella is how it captures the leitmotif of Morrison's previous works as a whole, her persistent investigation through all her books of what "home" means. What I missed was the intense musicality and poetry of her earlier works, but her lean prose might find favor with those readers who have disliked Morrison's style in the past. Still, there are beautifully poignant moments such as this: "The swallows were back, bringing with them a light breeze and an odor of sage growing at the edge of the yard. Cee watched, thinking, So this is what they mean in those sad, sweet songs. `When I lost my baby, I almost lost my mind...' Except those songs were about lost love. What she felt was bigger than that. She was broken. Not broken up but broken down, down into her separate parts." Reminiscent of Morrison's at her literary peak, these moments are well worth reading and rereading.
on May 10, 2012
When I heard that Toni Morrison was coming out with a new novel, I was absolutely excited. I loved Paradise and Beloved (so much so that I've never written a review of either of them) so I pre-ordered a copy of Home as soon as I could. I got my copy yesterday (the release day) and I finished it this morning. I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting, but this novella was different altogether from any of my expectations.
This novella was very different from other Morrison books that I've read. It was, first and foremost, easy to read. Beloved took me over a month to get through because it was so dense and so difficult; Home took me only a few hours. I was, I have to admit, a little surprised and even disappointed at how easy the prose was. Though the chapters switch between narrators, with a majority of the chapters being from Frank's perspective, the narrators of each chapter are always characters that have been previously introduce and are always identified in the first few sentences of their chapter. The reader never has to figure out who is talking or what is going on, so long as they can remember names. The chapters alternate between the story itself, told by the various narrators, and chapters in which Frank addresses the author directly, telling them what really happened, how he really felt, and occasionally correcting things that the author previously wrote. I really enjoyed those chapters, because they called attention to the act of storytelling itself, to the fact that someone who is not the characters is writing these things, to the idea that sometimes the author messes things up. I thought that technique was very cool, and it isn't something I've seen Morrison do before.
Possibly because the book was so short, I had a hard time connecting to the characters the way I have with her other novels. While they are good round characters, they aren't nearly as fleshed out as Sethe or the women from Paradise. I feel like this was more a novel of setting and theme than of characters, which is usually ok by me, but since this book was about Frank finding his sense of home, I wanted to connect with him a bit more. While it let me down in character development, it was great in setting. You get a good sense from the writing of what life was like for poor black people in the South, the way that injustice and violence from whites and the police was normal, an everyday hazard to be avoided rather than something surprising or unusual. Home includes a lot of the things that were happening at the time, segregation, eugenics, bebop, and obviously the Korean war. Mostly these elements are woven into the story seamlessly and organically. To balance out the injustice and sadness there were always communities, churches, and helpful strangers who supported each other where law and prejudice let them down. I loved that this book showed the ways that black people rallied and helped each other. So often we think of blacks before the civil rights movement as being poor downtrodden helpless people, but the reality is that they were often very strong, supporting each other and getting through with hard work, community, and a refusal to let poverty and hate grind them down. I think this book did a great job showing that without watering down the real pain of injustice and violence that comes with war and segregation. It's a delicate balance, but for the most part I think it's a balance that Home strikes very well.
As I mentioned earlier, the writing in Home is much easier and simpler than in the other Morrison novels I've read. The themes were generally just as subtle and nuanced as I expect from her, with the situations, problems, and solutions feeling real and honest rather than contrived or pedantic. That said, some parts of the last few chapters felt a little too obvious for me. Unlike in Beloved, in Home Morrison basically hands the reader the solution or moral that Cee and Frank have to find, explaining it to us in clear language. While this isn't always a bad thing, and in some novels those revelations are often the most beautiful parts, in Home it felt a little too easy. Maybe it's because I was expecting something more like her other novels, but the simplicity of those last few chapters left me a bit disappointed. They were beautiful, thematic, and they structurally balanced out the novel, but they just felt too easy.
So, after all this, what did I think of Home? It was good, definitely, but it certainly wasn't her best novel. I think it would be a perfect introduction to Toni Morrison for people who haven't read her books and don't want to start with anything too difficult. It has all of her usual themes, her lovely use of setting, and her realistic characters, but it's shorter in length and has much easier prose. For people who don't usually read difficult literary fiction, this is the perfect introduction to Toni Morrison. For those of us who love her partially because of her difficulty, this probably won't stand out as one of her best novels. The writing was much more mature than in The Bluest Eye, but it wasn't as complex or as moving as Paradise or Beloved. I would definitely recommend it, but it isn't going to join her other works on the list of my favorite novels of all time.
Rating: 4 stars
Recommendations: Readable prose, realistic setting, ok character development. A quick, enjoyable, and contemplative read from a wonderful author. Not as substantial as some of her other works.
on May 17, 2012
As a disclaimer: I am a massive Toni Morrison fan, have been ever since I read "Beloved" for school.
That said, it is only natural that I would "Home." Reviews from across the board (national papers to bookselling sites like Amazon) have said that the book is good and the character development minimalist but acceptable. They, they claim the overall novel will be dismissed as unimportant to the author's canon. This, I claim, is false.
HOME deals with a black soldier, Frank Money, home from the Korean War. He is trying to get back to his sister who is struggling and while doing so, he unintentionally searches for both home and redemption. Classic Morrison. Yet, the novel is undertoned with a varied set of characters who would be dismissed by the average reader and their marginalization by the author is intentional. They were marginalized, hidden (or hid), and ignored by the Fifties Experience which they populate. Morrison is always keen on examining context of her novels, and she presents it through the introduction of minor characters who disappear almost as quickly as they arrive as well as through minor notes on the primary characters of the story.
HOME is classic Morrison that will be underestimated because of its size. It is by far her shortest novel to date, yet in its few pages, Morrison grants a view of life in the 50s in a manner often ignored, like many of her minor characters.
Well done, Ms. Morrison. Another classic.
Frank Money is the only one of three childhood friends to survive their battles in Korea. Back in the States, Frank is battling demons and survivor guilt. He's always been the strong one, taking care of his little sister Cee. Now he needs help from others to try to make it back to her when he hears that she is near death and needs to be rescued.
His journey back to being the kind of man who can rescue his sister is both physical and spiritual. Frank travels a reverse Underground Railroad, finding refuge at a church after waking up in a mental hospital and escaping. As he travels home, the reader learns of how he and Cee grew up, how she got out of a backwoods place smaller than a town and where she ended up. Also revealed is how Frank has been fighting to hold on and not give up, but his war was hardly a good one. He is the only one who survived. And for what?
Morrison's short novel is tightly written, weaving in and out of points along the plot, themes, tropes and characters. It is a marvel to be studied and wondered at. But it also is a moving story of how African-Americans have been treated in their own country and how these individual characters react to what other people do to them. Frank and Cee have been victimized but are not victims.
After serving his country, Frank doesn't have anything except a medal. It's the only thing that keeps him from being arrested for the crime of being on the street and black. Cee thinks she has found the most wonderful employer in the world, but the white doctor she works for is killing her with his eugenics study. That the horror of what this "big-hearted doctor" named Beauregard is doing to Cee is not spelled out does not make it any less terrifying. The realization that the kind of thinking demonstrated by this ultimately cowardly man flourishes still today is even more terrifying, just as knowing the casual bigotry Frank encounters from white cops is seen is today's "stop and frisk" is, at best, disheartening.
Frank drank and found a strong woman to use as an anchor for a time. She is both similar to and the opposite of the grandmother who took in Frank, Cee, their parents and an uncle when they were forced to flee Texas (Cee was born on the road).
That grandmother, Lenore, is cold and cruel. Her active dislike of Cee is one of the reasons they both fled Lotus, Georgia, as soon as they could -- Frank to the Army and Cee running off with the first half-way grown man who wanted her. Lenore is like Miss Havisham without an Estrella to control and mentally abuse. She resents that she was able to use the money raised from selling her late husband's filling station (he was murdered, guilty of the crime of being black) but, instead of enjoying her life, she had to open her home to the family of her second husband. In contrast, Frank seeks shelter for a spell with Lily, a woman who has scrimped and saved enough to dream of owning a home and a business. When Frank leaves, she doesn't regret his going but there is not the sense that she resented the time she spent opening her heart and home to him. She just has other, better things to do now.
Many small actions reveal the true nature of the characters involved in the lives of Frank and Cee. These moments are powerful, and far more revealing, than the work of many authors who take pages and pages of tell, not show, to portray characters. The portraits work as individual portrayals, but they also combine to show the scope of what people can be capable of doing.
And, as with much of Morrison's work, there are ghosts. The first is one Frank sees on the train while trying to get home to Cee. It's a man in a zoot suit. A later appearance tells the reader that Frank is truly starting to heal. His physical journey has ended, but there is the implication his spiritual journey will continue. The quiet healing that takes place after the climax of the plot's action may leave some readers expecting more. But I thought it wasn't needed. Morrison was interviewed by Charlie Rose on the CBS morning program earlier this year and acknowledged she is stripping her fiction down as much as she can. A revelation late in the novel, and the way the last sections fit in tightly with the beginning, make more unnecessary.
Another ghostly figure that appears is Frank himself. Most of the novel is told in third-person omniscient. Frank at one point addresses that narrator. So when the revelation occurs, it's could be considered a surprise or, instead, the harvest of a seed planted in that passage. Frank, addressing the narrator, puts a different spin on an event that happened when the train stopped. A couple got off the train and came back bloodied. According to the narrative, the woman will be beat up by the man later because she shamed him for coming to his rescue. But Frank says differently:
"Earlier you wrote about how sure I was that the beat-up man on the train to Chicago would turn around when they got home and whip the wife who tried to help him. Not true. I didn't think any such thing. What I thought was how he was proud of her but didn't want to show how proud he was to the other men on the train. I don't think you know much about love.
As an example of how Morrison weaves so many things together, at another stage of his train journey Frank gets off the train for a walk and sees two women fighting while a man, presumably a pimp, watches them. He attacks the man and the women are angry about that. A person in power forcing others to fight comes up again in the story, and is tied to the way that Frank has always tried to protect Cee.
Throughout this tight story, Morrison remembers the forgotten. There are vets like Frank, himself a decorated veteran of that most forgotten of wars, Korea. There are victims of eugenics and other experiments undertaken on African-Americans without their knowledge or informed consent. There are domestic workers. There are ignored children. There are women alone. There are tiny, tiny towns where work is the only thing that matters. Morrison gives all of them a voice. And it's one that often is poetic. Frank's description of Lotus (a name with its own conotations of time spent outside regular time), does more in two pages to bring to life the dull hopelessness of a dead-end existence.
The contrast in attitude about work between Frank as a young boy and the women of Lotus is markedly different.
This underlying belief is the foundation of what will heal Frank and Cee.
The search for home in this novel shows there is the potential to do some good in the world, even by those who have been broken and who have been ignored or forgotten. Morrison does not have to spell out what that good will be, but showing the first steps Cee and Frank take toward doing their good as they heal makes for a strong argument that the wise woman of Lotus is right.
on May 18, 2012
In "Home", we have the story of Frank Money, a bitter, damaged veteran of, most recently, the Korean Conflict, and in a broader sense the American racial conflict. Two years home from the war, he's a drifter with one guiding principle: he never intends to return to his home town of Lotus, GA. His most recent dread stems from the fact that he alone of a trio of near lifelong friends has returned from war, but that is only the top layer of his distaste for a town that was defined in childhood, for him, as a place of neglect, humiliation, and loss. It is only when he receives a letter begging him to once again save his beloved younger sister that he finds the courage (perhaps born of desperation) to revisit his past.
"Home" is a slim book, less than 150 pages, but there is a wealth of wisdom encapsulated in its pages. There are lessons about dignity, courage, regret, loss, but most importantly about defining one's own life. For being such a short book, Ms. Morrison has done an admirable job of creating fully-fleshed characters in Frank and Cee, his sister; I always admire someone who can tell a succinct, yet still complete, story. We learn things about Frank and Cee in bits and pieces, much of it non-linear in time, which feels like getting to know a flesh and blood person; who, after all, reveals to us their life and soul starting with their birth and moving in orderly progression to the current day?
The title of the story comes from a cherished theme, I think: home is where and what you make it. There is much talk of homes and houses in this story, from the ramshackle house in Texas that the Moneys flee when Frank is only four years old, to the home his family shares for a few years with their silent grandfather and cruel step-grandmother, to the apartments they later inhabit; we even get a look at the desire to own her own home Frank's briefly mentioned girlfriend has, and how the effect of his indifference to her desire has upon her and their relationship. The dimensions of rooms are detailed, the conditions of houses as a reflection of their owners--it's really marvelous how these details become almost another character in themselves.
An interesting plot device occurs when Frank occasionally speaks for himself, first person narrative in the midst of a mainly third person narrative; Sometimes he agrees with the story teller, sometimes he's flashing out a point, occasionally he contradicts her entirely. It's a lesson in the unreliable first person narrator (as Frank also ultimately contradicts himself in a major plot point), but it's also a lovely counterpoint to the sometimes heavy structure of the main narrative.
This is funny; I originally set out to write a three star review, saying that I liked it, but didn't understand the inclusion of two chapters--one in Frank's girlfriend's point of view and one in their evil step-grandmother's POV. I was unable to see their relevance and considered them a weakness (and perhaps the product of an editor letting a powerful author have her head), but in the course of writing this, I've changed my mind. Now I know why they're there: they reinforce Ms. Morrison's point about houses, HOMES, and how they both reflect and define their owners. God, that's beautiful. (She did that to me with "A Mercy", too--I didn't figure out exactly hw I felt about it until I was reviewing the book) I came into this with the thought that Ms. Morrison's theme was, "Don't let others define you"; after all, she even has a character say almost those exact words. As important as that message is, I think she had more in mind, something more subtle:
As it turns out, you can go home again. After all, you carry it within you.
on June 10, 2012
More of a novella than novel
Short but packed with emotion
I liked it but wasn't blown away by it. It was finely written. It is detailed and descriptive. It was emotive. But it was maybe a little too lean and sparse to be lyrical or poetic. It wasn't overly complex, making it an easy read, but I also didn't feel that connected with the characters. The way the story switched narrators (almost The Done Thing in current writing!) was well done.
I am trying hard not to compare it to Mudbound by Hillary Jordan but there is a similarity in themes (black poverty in the South, injustice for returned black soldiers) and brevity and I found that Mudbound resonated far more deeply.
on May 16, 2012
Frank Money has had a bad war. It's a few years after he's returned from Korea and he's still battling ghosts especially those of the two home town pals he saw die. He's living with a woman he loves though she's running out of patience with his frustrating behavior and his inability to find work. Then he gets a cryptic note telling him his beloved younger sister is near death. He sets out to find her. Along the way he suffers flashbacks, racism, inexplicable violence both inflicted on him and that he inflicts on others. He also meets several strangers who treat him kindly and offer help. On his journey he contemplates his childhood and the Georgia town called Lotus that he couldn't wait to get away from. He wanted away so badly he joined the army. Only his love for his sister makes him determined to go back.
As always Morrison writes beautifully about interesting people. She clarifies male and female outlooks on similar topics and though their focus is different their actions are mostly done out of love. "Home" is a more concrete story than her last several works but it's no less gorgeous.
on June 20, 2012
I feel that this novel is complete, yet incomplete. I'm sure that there is so much more to these characters that could have been explored. It seems sort of rushed. There is a beginning and an end, but the middle seems a little light. I think that the supporting characters could use more developing. Why is Salem such a push over? What happened between Frank and his homeboys that made them so close? Who were they as people? Prince comes across as a space filler. What did he really do to Cee that made him such a bad person? I wanted more detail on that relationship. Seemed like he got in the car dropped her off in Atl and drove away. It had to be more to it than that. Their parents have no voice, again the read like seat fillers. They were there to create the scene but had no real purpose. The doctor also, his character could have added such another level to the book if his story was developed more. I like the book, but it just feels too unfinished. I would give it a 3.5
on June 15, 2012
I think that Toni Morrison represents the best state of American literature: Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, Beloved, A Mercy. There are passages from this book that live up to her craft. However, the book reads like a first draft of a greater novel. One wonders if she could have fleshed out this draft into a fuller work. I would have time to wait, and I hope she has the time as well.
I wonder if she has ever considered the form of the short story.