May 2012

Toni Morrison returns with darkness and light

By Julie Andrews
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Toni Morrison has more than 15 literary awards to her name, including both a Pulitzer and a Nobel Prize. This goes a long way toward explaining why, rather than comparing her to other authors, Morrison is measured against herself. It is understood that a Toni Morrison novel will challenge and humble its readers in terms of content, language and scope, so the real question when picking up her newest novel is never “Will this be a good book?” but rather, “Will this book be as good as all her others?”

When it comes to Home, Morrison’s 10th novel, the short answer is a clear “yes.” This is a very good book that easily takes its place in Morrison’s canon. Although the writing feels somewhat stripped down, the story itself is ambitious and vital, belying the small size of the book itself.

Home is largely the story of Frank Money, who left behind both the safety and the shackles of small-town Lotus, Georgia, by enlisting to fight in Korea, vowing never to return. Alas, the horrors of war leave Frank shell-shocked and bruised, a shadow of his former self. With whiskey and the comfort of a woman named Lily, Frank manages to keep his misery at bay, but these things offer temporary relief. It is only when he receives word that his little sister Cee is dying, having suffered at the hands of a eugenics-obsessed doctor, that Frank finally musters up the courage to return to the place he once called home, where his true healing can begin.

In many ways, Home touches on themes and ideas that have formed the backbone of Morrison’s previous works, namely the search for identity and community as framed in the historic context of the black American experience. Life is rarely kind to Frank, Cee and Lily, yet Home is still an immensely compassionate narrative that speaks to the unrelenting resilience of the human spirit. Morrison’s characters are frequently bloodied and bruised, but they are never fully broken. If there is one thing Morrison has mastered in her 40 years of writing books, it’s how to pack a punch so hard your lungs crumple. Excruciating in the moment, the next breath you take is all the sweeter for it. It’s these juxtapositions of sadness and joy, despair and hope, darkness and light, that ultimately make Home such a visceral read.

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By Julie Andrews
ISBN 9780786865659

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