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Home by Toni Morrison
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's review
May 05, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: read-in-2013
Read in January, 2013 — I own a copy

Of course you never want to 'award' Morrison with fewer than 5 stars - or perhaps, if you're feeling a bit like a stoic, but golden-hearted, nun with a very flimsy hand-slapping-ruler, you might give her 4 stars, and then, guiltily, note in your actual review that it's closer to 4.5, but that you're trying not to be an overzealous, gushing loon.

Well, I'm an evil nun, and I've decided to make a concerted effort to not pass out 4 & 5 star reviews like pennies on Halloween any longer! Look where being star-generous has gotten me! (In the exact same place I was before; reviewing books from my bed...)

Of course "Home" is good; of course it's readable & often beautiful & probably v important in some ways. Unfortunately, it's just not, and never will be, classic Morrison. Perhaps because she sets the bar so high for herself to begin with, it's more difficult to manage with a lesser novel from her? Part of the trouble is that it's just so. damn. short. I'm well aware that she's gettin' on up in the years, & that maybe she's never going to write a novel again that exceeds 200 pages. Thus a number of "major" reviews have lauded Morrison's spareness of style, her economy of words, her ability to write something fast-paced FOR ONCE IN HER LIFE. Well, I'm not certain if these same reviewers really want a Toni Morrison novel to be a fucking Gillian Flynn novel, but girl, I want more than a kind of extra long story from you! Because even the font is real big, and there's so much wasted white-space in the novel; so that 130 pages actually is probably more like 100 in any normally-formatted book!

And the trouble, finally, is this: the pacing is quick, but Morrison also refuses to allow the novel to flesh, well, anything out, at the service of keeping the narrative chugging to its inevitable conclusion. I'm not, then, sure whether I actually really give a damn whether Frank Money gets to Ycidra before the creepy philologist Dr Kevorkian does. I don't know if I've actually understood how traumatic seeing the Korean child-prostitute is for Frank, so that - gesture towards SPOILER, y'all! - the big revelation in his memory about this girl near the very end doesn't hold any water for me. I don't know who these people are, and so I have referent points for the black communities Frank is passing through from other Morrison novels, but should you have a familiarity with an author's entire body of work in order to be capable of understanding the characters in a particular novel as something other than paper-cutout versions of some abstraction? There's a usefulness to this that I can grapple with - the ways in which Morrison is suggesting that, for many without privilege, life is really mostly functional, utilitarian; energy can't be expended on soliloquizing and lamenting psychological conflicts, etc. But I just think she's managed this notion better elsewhere, perhaps particularly in "Sula," another short - but perfectly so - early novel.

The spare quality of the prose, too, is an interesting shift from a writer so late in her well-established and esteemed career. At the same time, there's a reason I've followed her career so closely over the past decade (since I wasn't really old enough to do so before) - because she's a master stylist, in addition to being an unparalleled storyteller. Here, her style works at times, but at others, it just sort of feels like Morrison's been drained - that she's tired of formulating the sorts of astonishingly heartfelt but decidedly non-sentimental metaphors that permeate her oeuvre. Additionally, the decision to alternate chapters with dreamlike, italicized addresses from Frank Money seems to me a cheap shot, and one that doesn't really succeed.

Whoa. I've just really raged on. Don't get me wrong! It's good! It's a good read! Worthwhile, etc. I also confess a bias - I don't really like when Morrison perspectivizes her work from a man's vantage point. It just doesn't work for me. Which isn't to say women can't write men/men can't write women, but that Morrison - Atwood's another good example for me - doesn't seem as engaged, and it shows. BUT BUT BUT there are moments of perfect lucidity in this novel that reveal an attentiveness to community and history that only work when Morrison does them. The opening scene with Frank and Cee as children - and the cyclical return to it in the final pages - this moment couldn't be handled well by anyone else. The ways in which Morrison manages to offer trauma in the way that trauma actually appears - in other words, the way that her characters always seem to comprehend it belatedly, see it in fits and spurts, or only partially - this so effective, so perfectly crystallized. The scenes with Cee were, to my mind, the best of the book; they didn't actually feel reiterative of Morrison's earlier work, though some of the territory was already-trodden. The close of the book verges on sappiness but never quite teeters over. Again, something only Morrison seems capable of - the emotional resonance minus the saccharine stomachache.

So yes, a fine novel. With Morrison, though, you know, as her adoring fan, that she can do, and has done, better. Of course, "Love" was her absolute worst, and "A Mercy" was v good, so maybe the next one will wow me again.

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