Morrison’s novel ‘Home’ excels in simple, beautiful prose
By Shannon Draucker, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Wednesday, May 16, 2012
When I encounter a truly stunning sentence or thought-provoking phrase in a novel, I gently dog-ear whatever page I’m reading so I can later return to the passage and savor its syntax. When I closed the cover after finishing Toni Morrison’s new novel “Home,” I realized I had folded down almost every other page as I devoured the work in a single, one-hour sitting in Sanborn. As one might expect from a novel penned by the Nobel Prize-winning author of “Beloved,” “Song of Solomon” and “A Mercy,” Morrison’s “Home” is a stirring story encased in vivid prose and tender narration.
“Home,” released last Tuesday, is only 146 pages long, but it tells the profound tale of Korean War veteran Frank Money. Frank journeys from the Pacific Northwest to his bleak hometown of Lotus, Ga. to rescue his sister from her abusive employer. Morrison’s celebrated penchant for gorgeous and groundbreaking narrative style emerges strikingly in “Home.” Told from multiple points of view, the story unwinds swiftly and shifts between different moments in the lives of each character.
What immediately strikes the reader is Morrison’s provocative, yet sensitive, treatment of deeply troubling events that haunt American history. Underlying the main plot line of Frank’s journey home are intimations about unequal treatment for black war veterans, prejudice against those afflicted by mental illness and eugenics experiments performed on women of color in the 1950s. Morrison infuses these issues into her already heartbreaking depictions of wartime and personal trauma. During the war, Frank watched two of his childhood friends perish on the battlefield. Frank’s sister Cee, a victim of eugenics experiments, is mutilated and rendered infertile by a doctor for whom she works.
At times nuanced and hopeful, “Home” does not simply illustrate the dismal experiences of Frank and Cee. Readers come to loathe the systemic violence of the characters’ circumstances while also cherishing their relationship, celebrating the reckoning they bring to the doctor and appreciating the healing they are granted at the end of the novel.
Morrison also details instances of human kindness amidst the illustrations of her characters’ turmoil. Although Frank faces humiliation and degradation on his travels — he escapes from a mental institution and is robbed of his shoes — he later encounters a family that houses him, feeds him and puts him in touch with a reverend who further helps him on his way.
Particularly moving are the passages in which a group of strong, southern women with “seen-it-all eyes” nurse Cee back to health. These women handle “sickness as an affront, an illegal, invading braggart who needed whipping” and instill in Cee the courage to confront the “real and vicious world.”
The moments that make reading “Home” such a magical experience are those in which Morrison displays her unparalleled capacity for composing simply beautiful prose. In one scene, Frank fears facing his deceased friends’ parents: “Easy breath and unscathed self would be an insult to them.” He laments how he could not “make up for the frosted urine on Mike’s pants and avenge the lips calling mama.”
In another scene, Cee draws a bath and “linger[s] in cool water while a softly suffering afternoon light encouraged her thoughts to tumble. Regrets, excuses, righteousness, false memory and future plans mixed together and stood like soldiers in line.”
Such “dog-ear” moments showcase Morrison’s virtuosic talent and remind readers why Morrison is one of the most important literary minds of our time.