Monday, September 7, 2015

Reviewing *Home*

On my second trip of the week I finished Toni Morrison's Home, and the experience was so different I started reading again from the beginning, thinking that maybe I was just in a different mood. I re-read the whole  thing today.

Now, I haven't finished writing  any novels, much less any that won major international awards, so maybe I have no right to criticize, but the second half of this book in no way lived up to the first. The novel opens with this amazing italicized memory of horses fighting, written in that totally Toni Morrison, larger-than-life voice, and then goes sort of detective style in the waking up of a vet who needs to break out of a mental hospital. Except, it quickly becomes obvious, this vet has been imprisoned for no more reason than he is black and suffering PTSD, and the way he takes in blame on himself for both of these qualities is heartbreaking. (I must have done something to deserve this. Maybe I was shouting again, or talking to the trees and apologizing to them, or staring at people and crying. You know, the sort of self blame that made Shadrach suicidal in Sula. Wait, that's the novel with Suicide Day in it, right?) 

But the novel doesn't really focus consistently on the vet --- Frank Money --- and his development or breakdown. And it also brings in his younger sister, who similarly must heal herself after a trauma, this one echoing the histories of medical experimentation on black people by doctors. This strand of the story comes at the end of the novel when everything feels rushed and lacking in clear stakes. What happened to her? How is Frank able to rescue her so easy? Why is the doctor doing this and why doesn't he do more to stop their escape? (I understand she's never been all that interested in exploring white racist mind sets, but she's had more fleshed out, more satisfying, villain characters.) Why is the sister --- who is rural, practically illiterate, and barely 15 when this happens --- able to suddenly make self-reliance speeches at the end that wouldn't seem out of place on an Oprah episode? So many strands are closed off or declared "healed" at the end and I don't even know why I should care about them, much less how they are resolved.

The "home" is similarly frustrating, as the town of Lotus, Georgia, is seen by these two characters as only a prison and backwater they never want to return to, justifiably so. And yet they do return and blend in easily and without any resentment at the end. And the women who have had no love and connection with Cee (the sister), are presented at the end as being somehow the answer or solution to these characters' problems, accepted without any railing against it like in the beginning. Why should we care about them or believe that their love is actually love, when it is, like their parents' love, as sharp and thin and cold as a razor blade? (I handed my book to my sis so I can't quote exactly) Now, I understand that people who live in terrible circumstances do terrible things in turn, and their love in these circumstances is warped like a tree bent by the constant ocean winds --- that is the message of Sula, after all --- but nothing about that group of vicious women worked for me. Or the ending, either. Maybe if it had taken extra pages to bring us to that point it could have. 

Now I feel like I should go read her earlier work again and see how much still stands up over time. Of course, those books are all packed into storage, waiting for their own home.

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