Book Review: Home by Toni Morrison

HomeHome by Toni Morrison

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Toni Morrison never takes the easy way out. She rarely offers closure, she never spares the reader the pain, violence and disappointment that have shaped the black experience in America. Yet her books are never without slices of redemption, compassion and even moments of joy that make the intolerable somehow bearable.

Home, barely weighing in as a novel at 145 pages, packs every one of Morrison’s literary themes into its compact format: Jim Crow, sharecropping, strong, independent female characters making their way and weaker women exploited by white and black men alike, eugenics, even slavery, if we consider what young Cee suffers. Morrison also confronts us with post-traumatic stress disorder, as the main character, Frank Money, returns the U.S. shattered by the Korean War. And there is a touch of magical surrealism, a technique that Morrison often employs to weave allegory into her brutal realism.

What makes such fullness of content possible in this slim volume is a departure from Morrison’s Gothic, rich, lyrical style. Home is restrained, the sentences are often brief and declarative, the scenes are short; though she does use characters’ remembrances of times past to show significant amounts of backstory. But her writing is as powerful as has ever been. I love this sentence, for its imagery, its rhythm, the way the beat of it perfectly mirrors its action. The “girl” in this sentence refers to a honeydew melon:

Sarah slid a long, sharp knife from a drawer and, with intense anticipation of the pleasure to come, cut the girl in two.

Two long, slow phrases – drawing out the knife, drawing out the anticipation – then smack! She cuts the girl in two.

This is what it’s like reading Toni Morrison – every word, every phrase contribute to what she wants the reader to experience and how she wants the experience to feel. Of course, this is every writer’s aim. Few succeed like Toni Morrison.

I didn’t find this story transformative, perhaps because it is so relentlessly bleak, until the end. But I find so much in the writing to admire.

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