Let’s start with the most difficult part, as Toni Morrison often does. On the first page of her slim but emotionally heavy new novel, Home, two African-American children, Frank and Cee, witness a vicious act of racially motivated violence. Near the end of the book, they return to the scene to better understand what happened: ”Cee bit her lip, forcing herself not to look away, not to be the terrified child who could not bear to look directly at the slaughter that went on in the world, however ungodly. This time, she did not cringe or close her eyes.”
It’s a scene that will resonate with anyone who loves Morrison’s books. The 81-year-old author, who won a Nobel and a Pulitzer for her unflinching portrayals of slavery, war, and other horrors (just try to forget the terrible thing that took place in the barn in 1987’s Beloved), poses that same challenge again and again to her characters and her readers: Face all that you can stand, with your eyes open.
In Home, Korean War vet Frank Money has just flown back to America, only to find that he’s returned to the same racist country he left. He’s been committed to a mental ward, for a reason he can’t (or won’t) remember. He’s running out of time to find his dying sister, Cee, and bring her back to their hometown of Lotus, Georgia, a place that’s ”worse than any battlefield.” But when Money breaks out of the hospital to take the bus down South, his memory catches up with him, bringing up parts of his past that he wishes had never happened.
Told in the stark, economical tone of a short story, with all the philosophical heft of a novel (Morrison delves into eugenics, the ethics of medical experimentation, and the nature of victimhood in 160 pages), Home is a moving testament to taking responsibility for your own life — especially the parts you’d like to look away from. A-