by Toni Morrison
One of the bits of advice I always tell young writers and readers is to not think of the author of any writing as the narrator of any third person voice. While many (most?) writers draw on events in their own lives, in fiction it’s important to remember the author of whatever you read controls the writing, not the character. In Toni Morrison’s new novel, Home, her main character is an African-American/Black man named Frank Money who has returned home from the Korean War, and like many veterans of the past is not exactly celebrated upon his return back to the States. Morrison’s new book should not be pigeon-holed into any type of sub-genre literature. This is not an “African-American Lit” book, not a “Feminist” book, not a “War” book, nor a book for any one type of person in particular. This is American Literature at its best.
I’ve read other reviews that have referred to Frank as a “self-loathing” man who returns from the war with “more than just physical scars.” Part of me wonders who exactly has written these reviews, as Frank is not carrying emotional scars just from the war— he’s been scarred since his youth spent growing up in the ever racist U.S. south—and amazingly has withstood a lot of shit really well.
This is a book about the experience of a Black U.S. Army Veteran in the early-to-mid 20th century USA. Frank Money is not merely worthy of sympathy—he requires more than that. Frank is an empathetic character who has dealt with adversity his whole life, whether from his own family or society at large, and after taking in the whole scope of Frank’s experiences he’s handled it all pretty well. I’m not sure I would have had the patience and control Frank has had throughout his life.
With true community, Frank is helped by other Black Americans on his way from the Midwest to Georgia to rescue his sister Cee from the torture of a sickening eugenics project run by a white southern doctor. The doctor is not some cartoonish/stereotypical American version of Dr. Joseph Mengele either, he’s far more subtle and subversive—insidious, in the exact way the U.S. eugenics programs were run throughout the country. As always, Morrison does a perfect job keeping her story focused in time, never using the narrative to inject a contemporary historical perspective of the eugenics programs which were destructive, terrifying and ultimately took away the rights of thousands of U.S. citizens, nor does she explain that it was the eugenics ideas in the U.S. that “inspired” Hitler’s “Final Solution.”
This is the perfect book for those looking to be introduced to more of Morrison’s writing—it’s prose is as tight as Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, never once losing a reader in the narrative and at the same time showing you how a true wordsmith can write succinctly, never disregarding story nor the truth of character. I had to read the entire book all the way through, and I haven’t done that since I read Erik Larson’s In the Garden of the Beasts. Home is a clear contender for a Pulitzer—read it.