Home by Toni Morrison
This is the first book I have read by Toni Morrison, having been meaning to get to Beloved for some time. Perhaps this is beneficial to my view of Home as I have nothing to compare it to. Many reviews, such as from The Guardian, have said the book is ‘Okay’ but not really a patch on Toni Morrison’s usual standard. If this is indeed so then I shall have to bump the rest of her work up my reading list quickly!
This short book, a novella really at one hundred and forty-five pages, is set shortly after the time of the Korean War. Frank Money is a discharged veteran struggling to come to terms with his horrific war memories by losing himself in alcohol and violence in a racist America. On receiving a letter, he learns that his beloved sister Cee is mortally ill and immediately sets off on a journey to Georgia to rescue her and take her back to their childhood home in Lotus.
Admittedly I found the first part of the book a little hard to get into; it didn’t pull me straight in but once the story began to reveal itself I became wrapped up in it and relaxed into enjoying the beautiful style of writing. Toni Morrison weaves so many unexpected surprises into the main thread, especially towards the second half that you certainly could not say it was predictable. Horrific revelations relating to each character’s experience draw them closer to the reader and build sympathies so strong in such a small book.
The story doesn’t just follow Frank, other characters such as Cee, Frank’s girlfriend Lily and Frank’s step-grandmother Lenore get a chapter of narration to themselves providing some of the history and backdrop to the events of the present time. As Frank makes his way south, his journey is juxtaposed with these brief histories of the characters integral to his current situation. The book is written in the third person but what I found particularly clever and original was the voice of Frank punctuating each chapter. This gives the impression that he is following the author as she writes his story while contributing his own input and thoughts on the writing. I really enjoyed this approach as it brought the story to life even more and injected a level of heartfelt emotion that could not have been achieved any other way.
I thought this was a fascinating read, unlike anything really that I have read before. There are some really brutal ideas that produce really beautiful results and clarity. From reading about Toni Morrison and her work, I sense a continuing theme of freedom and this is very present here. I especially like the insinuation that you can make a slave of your own self by living your life as you imagine is expected of you rather than being true to yourself. It is a book about freedom and honesty and the wisdom of women with a punch of an emotional and satisfying ending.