When I heard that Toni Morrison was coming out with a new novel, I was absolutely excited. I loved Paradise and Beloved (so much so that I've never wr...moreWhen I heard that Toni Morrison was coming out with a new novel, I was absolutely excited. I loved Paradise and Beloved (so much so that I've never written a review of either of them) so I pre-ordered a copy of Home as soon as I could. I got my copy yesterday (the release day) and I finished it this morning. I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting, but this novella was different altogether from any of my expectations.
This novella was very different from other Morrison books that I've read. (I'm calling it a novella because it is only 147 pages long. I know some of you don't like the term, but I do, so I'm using it.) It was, first and foremost, easy to read. Beloved took me over a month to get through because it was so dense and so difficult; Home took me only a few hours. I was, I have to admit, a little surprised and even disappointed at how easy the prose was. Though the chapters switch between narrators, with a majority of the chapters being from Frank's perspective, the narrators of each chapter are always characters that have been previously introduce and are always identified in the first few sentences of their chapter. The reader never has to figure out who is talking or what is going on, so long as they can remember names. The chapters alternate between the story itself, told by the various narrators, and chapters in which Frank addresses the author directly, telling them what really happened, how he really felt, and occasionally correcting things that the author previously wrote. I really enjoyed those chapters, because they called attention to the act of storytelling itself, to the fact that someone who is not the characters is writing these things, to the idea that sometimes the author messes things up. I thought that technique was very cool, and it isn't something I've seen Morrison do before.
Possibly because the book was so short, I had a hard time connecting to the characters the way I have with her other novels. While they are good round characters, they aren't nearly as fleshed out as Sethe or the women from Paradise. I feel like this was more a novel of setting and theme than of characters, which is usually ok by me, but since this book was about Frank finding his sense of home, I wanted to connect with him a bit more. While it let me down in character development, it was great in setting. You get a good sense from the writing of what life was like for poor black people in the South, the way that injustice and violence from whites and the police was normal, an everyday hazard to be avoided rather than something surprising or unusual. Home includes a lot of the things that were happening at the time, segregation, eugenics, bebop, and obviously the Korean war. Mostly these elements are woven into the story seamlessly and organically. To balance out the injustice and sadness there were always communities, churches, and helpful strangers who supported each other where law and prejudice let them down. I loved that this book showed the ways that black people rallied and helped each other. So often we think of blacks before the civil rights movement as being poor downtrodden helpless people, but the reality is that they were often very strong, supporting each other and getting through with hard work, community, and a refusal to let poverty and hate grind them down. I think this book did a great job showing that without watering down the real pain of injustice and violence that comes with war and segregation. It's a delicate balance, but for the most part I think it's a balance that Home strikes very well.
As I mentioned earlier, the writing in Home is much easier and simpler than in the other Morrison novels I've read. The themes were generally just as subtle and nuanced as I expect from her, with the situations, problems, and solutions feeling real and honest rather than contrived or pedantic. That said, some parts of the last few chapters felt a little too obvious for me. Unlike in Beloved, in Home Morrison basically hands the reader the solution or moral that Cee and Frank have to find, explaining it to us in clear language. While this isn't always a bad thing, and in some novels those revelations are often the most beautiful parts, in Home it felt a little too easy. Maybe it's because I was expecting something more like her other novels, but the simplicity of those last few chapters left me a bit disappointed. They were beautiful, thematic, and they structurally balanced out the novel, but they just felt too easy.
So, after all this, what did I think of Home? It was good, definitely, but it certainly wasn't her best novel. I think it would be a perfect introduction to Toni Morrison for people who haven't read her books and don't want to start with anything too difficult. It has all of her usual themes, her lovely use of setting, and her realistic characters, but it's shorter in length and has much easier prose. For people who don't usually read difficult literary fiction, this is the perfect introduction to Toni Morrison. For those of us who love her partially because of her difficulty, this probably won't stand out as one of her best novels. The writing was much more mature than in The Bluest Eye, but it wasn't as complex or as moving as Paradise or Beloved. I would definitely recommend it, but it isn't going to join her other works on the list of my favorite novels of all time.
Rating: 4 stars Recommendations: Readable prose, realistic setting, ok character development. A quick, enjoyable, and contemplative read from a wonderful author. Not as substantial as some of her other works.(less)
The tale immigrant workers in Canada, laced with a strange mix of real events and magical realism, this book has an almost hallucinatory quality at ti...moreThe tale immigrant workers in Canada, laced with a strange mix of real events and magical realism, this book has an almost hallucinatory quality at times. Told mostly from the point of view of a distant main character, with bits and pieces from other characters whose relationships are gradually revealed, this book sometimes bypasses emotional impact for clarity of theme, poetic language, and metafictional elements. The language is at times painfully beautiful, but it is also very self-conscious and obvious, in a way that sometimes bothered me. If you like lyrical and poetic novels, then this might just be the book for you. If self-conscious and occasionally purple prose is a pet peeve of yours, I suggest you stay away from this one.(less)
I don't usually read YA books. They just aren't my thing. But, I do love Sherman Alexie, so I decided to try his book Flight. While his book The Absol...moreI don't usually read YA books. They just aren't my thing. But, I do love Sherman Alexie, so I decided to try his book Flight. While his book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was thoroughly enjoyable, I found Flight to be a bit more pedantic and not quite as realistic. I think it might be for a slightly younger audience than I thought, but it was definitely a bit more trite than I was expecting, especially since many of the reviews I've read of it called it gritty or dark. It wasn't a bad book, and it was definitely better than many YA books I've read, but I would restrict it to the intended audience rather than recommend it for people my age. Rating: 3 stars
Accessible writing, slightly trite and pedantic, intended for a younger audience.
Have you ever finished a book and thought "Man, this is going to be hard to review?" Because that's the first thing I thought when I finished this lit...moreHave you ever finished a book and thought "Man, this is going to be hard to review?" Because that's the first thing I thought when I finished this little book by Laura Esquivel. Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments With Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies is a book that really left me conflicted. There were things about it that I absolutely loved, and things about it that made me very angry. The only way I can think to write this review is to explain what I found good and bad, and let you all come to your own conclusions.
First, let's start with the good things. I loved the way this book was written. Like Water for Chocolate reads like a folktale, and a fun one at that. Some people's reviews that I've read found the magical realism trite or annoying, but I found it really endearing. The book managed to be an easy, quick read without sacrificing quality. Now, I cannot review this book without talking about the recipes. The book is split up into monthly installments, and each month has a recipe that Tita makes that ties the story together. The recipe is given at the beginning of each monthly chapter, and the instructions for preparation are woven into the story. Now, I'm a huge fan of cooking, so I found this idea to be really great. Since so much of the story takes place around and hinges on food, putting the recipes in the book makes perfect sense. I loved the way that the preparation instructions were included in the action of the story. Some people seem to find it gimmicky, but I thought it was a fun little addition to a book already filled with the tastes and smells of good Mexican cooking.
Now, for the things that troubled me. First of all, I have to admit that even though I'm a huge lover of all things fairy-tale and myth, I do not like the "love at first sight" narrative. It's not that I'm not a romantic, but I feel that real love is something that is built up from a knowledge of a person's character and personality, not something that magically happens when you see someone from across the room. As for Tita's beloved, Pedro, I honestly didn't like him. He spent the entire book being selfish, immature, and whiny. I have no idea what Tita saw in him. While this book started out with that "love at first sight" narrative, there is a point that it has the chance to go away from that narrative and treat love in a realistic and touching manner. Honestly, that was the ending I was hoping for, so I was pretty well disappointed with how the book actually ended. For me at least, the ending was the worst part of the book. I feel like it kept the book from really having any particular meaning or significance, and instead just avoided any difficulty and wrapped up as quickly and neatly as possible. It just wasn't satisfying.
There were also plot elements that I found really disturbing. There are some *spoilers* in the following paragraph. At one point Pedro completely ignores all concepts of consent and just assumes that Tita wants to have sex with him, even though she has denied him repeatedly because he is married to her sister and she is promised to someone else. Does he care about this? No. Is this seen as a problem in the book? No, of course not. As soon as Pedro grabs her and pulls her into a room, Tita magically forgets all of her previous objections, and it's just seen as more proof that they need to be together. Honestly, I find that to be pretty wrong. If somebody who I had repeatedly told to leave me alone just assumed that I didn't really mean it and that I really wanted to have sex with him and decided to pull me into a dark room, I would kick him so hard he would never want to have sex again. It wouldn't matter how much I actually loved him, if he can't respect my decisions he is not worth my time. Combine that incident with the not-very-sympathetic treatment of a rape victim at another point, and you can imagine that I wasn't exactly happy with the way this book treated consent. *End spoilers here* Basically, this book had some incidents that left me with a bad taste in my mouth, and made me wonder exactly what kind of love the author is trying to promote.
Overall, the good writing and fun recipes in this book did not outweigh the problematic elements in the narrative. As much as I wanted to, I could not let myself simply enjoy this book, because problems with the plot and the ideas in the book kept jolting me out of the magical world of the narrative. This book was supposed to be a great love story, but I couldn't help feeling that Tita ended up with the wrong man. The ending of the book was completely disappointing, and only served to cement my growing discomfort. For those of you who don't mind the things that I mentioned, this book could be enjoyable. For those of you who want realistic love and respectful healthy relationships, I would suggest that you stay away from Like Water For Chocolate.
Rating: not recommended Good things: enjoyable writing, fun format, successful magical realism Bad things: unrealistic love, unhealthy relationships, consent problems, unsatisfying ending