Book Review – Home by Toni Morrison

9780307740915_p0_v1_s260x420I was lucky enough to get to hear Toni Morrison give a reading as well as a brief question and answer session at Northeastern University just over a year ago as part of the university’s celebration of Martin Luther King Day. The selection she chose to read was from her then recently released, Home, which found its way into my To Read pile only a week or two later, though, given that she’s one of my favorite writers and I’ve read almost all of her novels, it’s hardly surprising. What is surprising is how long it’s taken me to actually read it, especially since I found the reading she gave so compelling.

Frank Money returns from the war in Korea understandably haunted by the experience. Losing two close friends from childhood, he struggles to readjust to civilian life while suffering from the then unrecognized PTSD. News that his sister is in danger and might die sends Frank on a journey back down south to Georgia and the hometown he hasn’t seen since coming back from the war.

Frank’s first person narration is provided intermittently between longer chapters that tell the stories of other key characters in and around Frank and his sister, Ycinda. These chapters provide a variety of glimpses and perspectives that piece together a larger and broader story than what just one character could give, and do so in a more personal way than a generic third person narration could accomplish. At the same time, there are a lot of things that remain vague as a result; the gaps where questions remain unanswered appear larger.

This may bother some readers, but in this instance, it didn’t bother me. It enables Morrison to touch on many issues without getting too bogged down in the specifics. At the same time, she manages to capture poignant and horrific images for each; enough detail to remember but not so much that it overwhelms the reader. Home is not about the horrors of war; it’s not about violence and race relations in the south; it’s not about the ties of family or community. Home is about the intersections between these subjects and others. It’s like looking at a map online. Home is zoomed in enough to see the outline of a larger picture, but in order to see the whole picture some of the definition is sacrificed.

Some of what Morrison touches on is very familiar territory. The interactions of the women in the community harken back to those seen in Beloved, Sula, Paradise, and The Bluest Eye. Sometimes they’re bitter and judgmental, harsh to outsiders of those who are different but usually pulling together when it counted. I would have liked to see more in the vein of how Frank’s PTSD was handled in the community and the interracial violence touched upon here and there in the novel are powerful but impersonal. The narrative structure that highlights those intersections is also what ultimately limits the novel’s ability to dive in deeper on subjects Morrison hasn’t delved into as often in the past. Additional chapters on those secondary characters wouldn’t have been impossible or incongruent, but they might have been too much while one chapter each can easily feel like not enough.

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