by Toni Morrison; Knopf, 2012; 160 pages; $24
It’s easy to mistake a brief book for a simple book. Sometimes readers assume just because a novel doesn’t reach the 300-page mark, the author has little to say. Conversely, works of fiction often spindle out into multiple volumes without having said anything at all (or, at least, anything worth remembering). “Home,” the latest novel by Toni Morrison, does neither. Instead it packs an untidy wallop of issues into a scant 106-page story, leaving readers to sort out the mess.
The Nobel Prize-winning author of “Beloved,” “The Bluest Eye,” and “Song of Solomon” peels away from her famed preference for magical realism with “Home.” In it, Frank Money, a mentally unhinged Korean War vet, returns to his hometown in Georgia, where he hopes to reach his dying sister before it’s too late. Along the way, Morrison turns Frank’s story into a disjointed and colloquial love/hate (mostly hate) letter to the pre-Civil Rights South of the 1950s.
Through Frank’s memories of human cruelty, both during and after the war, Morrison displays a preoccupation with the harsh treatment of desegregated black vets in America. As terrifying visions of past combat corrupt Frank’s interpretation of the present, Morrison silences her trademark narrative voice for a while so that Frank can tell things his own way. In every other chapter, in fact, Frank addresses Morrison directly and often points out the flaws in her portrayal of his life.
As Frank draws closer to Georgia, the author introduces his sister Cee, and his former lover Lily, both of whom illustrate Morrison’s commentary on poor education for black women in their generation. Because of Cee’s and Lily’s lack of learning, the two young women fall prey to the sly schemes of disloyal black men and the cruel machinations of wealthy white employers.
Over all of these poignant themes, Morrison drizzles her signature imaginative flair, but, in a novel so brief, early on her seams begin to show. Eventually, they unravel at the hem entirely, as the reader has no time to acclimate to her various ploys and ambitious devices. Had she written “Home” as a more hefty text, readers might have a chance to invest some emotion in her characters before wading through the author’s deliberately kooky style. Though many people say that less is sometimes more, in Morrison’s case, the key word is “sometimes.”
Lance Hicks is an English major at Jacksonville State University.