HOME: A REVIEW
“Whose house is this?” – Toni Morrison
It is this question that ushers us into the world of Toni Morrison’s tenth novel Home. Like so many of Morrison’s novels, Home is not a singular thing, but a stand-in for many different conceptions. Throughout the novel, Toni Morrison asks us to think about what “home” is, and what it means to be “at home” with ones self.
Home’s plot is relatively simple. Frank Money, a discharged Korean War, returns two an American brimming with racism. He receives an urgent letter telling him that he must return to Georgia to save his sister. We are to join him on his “odyssey” as he returns “home.”
At just 147 pages, I would be lying if I said I didn’t wish that Home were longer. There are many chapters, like the one dedicated to Lenore (the “evil” matriarch) that I wish were longer. After a life changing incident, Lenore is forced “to be content with the company of the person she prized most of all–herself.” Morrison, unlike so many writers, has never apologized for writing women who are beholden only to themselves. She breaks away from the patriarchal tendency to believe that a woman should be someone else’s best thing before she is her own. I could have spent the entire book reading about Lenore, but this is Toni Morrison’s story to tell, and I can’t fault her for not allowing her characters, dynamic as they are, to run off with the story. I wish more would have let her characters soar rather that just appear. They are dynamic, but dimmed a bit. I think you will find Lenore’s chapter to be quite powerful.
As powerful as Lenore’s chapter is, this is the story of Frank Money. It is through his eyes, and as you will find out his defiance, that we are allowed into the “home” that Morrison has constructed. Frank Money is scarred psychologically from his time spent at war. As Money returns to Georgia Morrison imbues his journey with the beautiful social commentary that only she can provide. We are asked to grapple with the consequences of war, the dynamics of intimate relationships, the painful history of medical experimentation upon Blacks, Jim Craw laws as well as customs, and many other issues that are not unique to the 1950s. One of the main issues that Morrison concerns herself with in Home, is what it means to be a man that is “at home” with himself? Is manhood honesty, vulnerability, action, or apathy? Perhaps a mixture of all?
Morrison’s writing is beautiful, but understated. The scope of the novel is small, but the themes are large. This is the Morrison that we know and love, but toned down and more restrained. It’s as if Morrison wrOte the entire novel with “less is more” constantly on her mind.
Overall, Home is a fitting chronicle of a particular period in the Black experience. It serves as an approachable history, one not rendered cold as can often be the case in non-fiction books. There is a shocking revelation at the end of the novel, and it perfectly encapsulates what it means to be “at home” with oneself. The events following this revelation allow the main character to be “at home” with himself. It provides an example to us all of what it means to come home.
We should work hard to not become strangers in our own house. We should strive to not be a house of lies. Frank takes on this challenge. Will you?