Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Thoughts on Toni Morrison's New Novel Home


Like many of you, I have been a fan of Toni Morrison since I was a freshman in college. It was in those classrooms that I fell in love with the magic that is Toni Morrison. It was through her writings that I came to understand and to love the use of stream consciousness in fiction writing.

After college I continued to be a fan. However, for anyone who has read Morrison, you know reading her can take work. I learned to digest Morrison's books by taking a highlighter and creating a family tree/org chart to keep up with who was connected to whom. Also, I pulled out the Bible on more than one occasion because often her books have biblical references and metaphors. Of course it was never possible to even come close to understanding a Morrison novel with just one read. I confess that I have read Songs of Solomon at least (4) times, Paradise (3) times and Beloved, I can't even count. And I still feel as if I've missed something or there's more for me to learn.

Now fast forward to the twenty-first century. Morrison's recent novels have been quite different. A lot less voluminous than some of her earlier works. Usually, no more than 200 pages. Though still rich in substance; they tend not to have the type of complex themes and metaphors that leave one feeling exhausted and for me, just a bit inadequate. Let me correct myself. The complexity of themes is still there, but they don't seem to be as deeply hidden in symbolisms as they once were.

These days it would appear that Morrison has mastered the art of less is more. The stories are just as rich, and your soul still feels full, but just with half the dose.
This is definitely the case with Home. Morrison is no less masterful in her ability to weave a story and paint a mosaic that leads the reader into the joy, pain and personal growth of the character(s). In Home, we take a spiritual and emotional journey with the main character Frank, who is a Korean War veteran. More likely than not, Frank is suffering from PTSD. 

We follow Frank on his painful journey to reconnect with his sister Cece, who has also experienced her own personal and physical trauma at the hands of a trusted physician for whom she is employed. Morris without being mushy; shows us that familiar bonds can never be completely broken and love and forgiveness transcends and heals all wounds.

The opening line of the novel, in classic Morrison style sets the tone of the story:
"They rose up like men. We saw them. Like men they stood." (Home, p.3).

Morrison still employs stream of consciousness, masterfully. But this reader was able to follow it; possibly because it was not overlaid with as many metaphors and symbols as in some of Morrison's earlier works. Yet, her ability to make readers hear, taste and smell what the characters are experiencing is no less poignant.

For example:

"The iced iron of the fire escape steps was so painful he
jumped over the rails to sink his feet into the warmer
snow on the grown. Manic moonlight going the work
of absent starts matched his desperate frenzy, lighting
his hunched shoulders and footprints left in the snow."
(Home p. 11).

Home, like many of Morrison novels is the story of one man's journey through childhood and adult trauma, and the courage he is able to call forth in order to make his way back to redemption and healing.  I recommend the book for veteran Morrison fans and for those who might have been intimidated or exhausted by some of Morrison's earlier works. I feel confident than neither audience will be disappointed.

© 2012