Saturday, April 26, 2014
Home by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison has written ten novels, and while Sula, the story of two friends raised together, who take wildly different paths toward womanhood, remains my favorite, reading a Toni Morrison novel is always an interesting and thoroughly entertaining experience. She has received the National Book Critics Circle Award, a Pulitzer Prize, and in 1993, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Home is her tenth novel.
Frank Money has returned from the Korean War physically and psychologically damaged. To make matters worse, he returns to an America in the depths of the Jim Crow era, with lynching and cross burnings. The murder of Emmett Till, and the bold stand by Rosa Parks were still in the future. He returns to his home, but finds it oddly strange – he barely recognizes once familiar people and places. He finds his younger sister suffering from medical abuse, and tries to rescue her. In order to do that, he must return to the Georgia town he hated all his life.
Morrison describes Frank’s train ride home from Portland, Oregon. She writes, “Passing through freezing, poorly washed scenery, Frank tried to redecorate it, mind painting giant slashes of purple and X’s of gold on hills, dripping yellow and green on barren wheat fields. Hours of trying and failing to recolor the western landscape agitated him, but by the time he stepped off the train he was calm enough. The station noise was so abrasive, though, that he reached for a sidearm. None was there of course, so he leaned against a steel support until the panic died down” (27).
Clearly, Frank suffered from what we now recognize as PTSD. However in 1952, Frank was unlikely to get help from the government, and he certainly was not likely to find any help or support in the community at large. Frank goes on a shopping trip for some new clothes with Billy. The buy Frank a suit at Goodwill, then head to a shoe store for work boots. When they come out of the store, they walk into some police activity. Morrison writes, “…during the random search outside the shoe store they just patted pockets, not the inside of work boots. Of the two other men facing the wall, one had his switchblade confiscated, the other a dollar bill. All four lay their hands on the hood of the patrol car parked at the curb. The younger officer noticed Frank’s medal. // ‘Korea?’ // ‘Yes, sir.’ // ‘Hey, Dick. They’re vets.’ // ‘Yeah?’ // ‘Yeah. Look.’ The officer pointed to Frank’s service medal. // ‘Go on. Get lost, pal.’ // The police incident was not worth comment so Frank and Billy walked off in silence” (37). Sounds a lot like the recently discontinued New York City policy of “stop and frisk.”
Will Frank rediscover the courage he had in Korea? If you have not read Morrison in a while, Home, at a mere 145 pages will reintroduce the reader to this thoughtful, powerful writer. If you have not read anything by one of America’s great literary treasures – tsk, tsk – Home is a great place to start. 5 stars