Saturday, November 24, 2012

Home by Toni Morrison

Fran Lebowitz tells a good story about the time she was Toni Morrison's guest when Morrison received the Nobel prize for literature and Lebowitz ended up sitting at the children's table at the banquet. Anyway, hearing that anecdote reminded me that I've been meaning to read Morrison's recent novel, Home... and so I did. It is a jewel of a book, a powerhouse in under 150 pages.

Frank Money comes back from the Korean war shell-shocked, but learning that his beloved younger sister needs his help brings him back to his senses and to his hometown. The first lines from each short chapter are enough to reveal the attraction of Morrison's style:

   They rose up like men.
   Breathing. How to do it so no one would know he was awake.
   Mama was pregnant when we walked out of Bandera County, Texas.
   A mean grandmother is one of the worst things a girl could have.
   Women are eager to talk to me when they hear my last name. 
   The actors were much nicer than the actresses.
   Lotus, Georgia, is the worst place in the world, worse than any battlefield.
   Jackie's ironing was flawless.
   Korea. You can't imagine it because you weren't there.
   The Georgian boasted a country-ham-and-red-gravy breakfast. Frank got to the station early to reserve a coach seat.
   Her eyes. Flat, waiting, always waiting.
   Frank walked down Auburn Street across from the station on Walnut.
   It was so bright, brighter than he remembered.
   I have to say something to you right now. I have to tell the whole truth.
   The next morning at breakfast Cee appeared to have returned to her newly steady self, confident, cheerful and occupied.
   Cee refused to give up the quilt.
   C'mon, brother. Let's go home.

Morrison's writing has become even better as it has become more spare in recent years.  A Mercyher previous book, had only 167 pages. I particularly love her characters. Even her villains get fair treatment -- the mean grandmother in Home, for example, has her own chapter to provide context for her actions. The bigger issues are always present, too: social, cultural and political issues that add a rich depth and feeling. It's a treat for a reader to experience such masterful work; storytelling that seems effortless.

No comments: