"Home:" Toni Morrison's novel of a Southern homecoming
Toni Morrison's short novel "Home" tells the story of Frank Money, a troubled young Korean War veteran who takes refuge in a Seattle minister's home, then steels himself to return to the South to reunite with his distressed little sister.
Special to The Seattle Times
by Toni Morrison
Knopf, 145 pp., $24
Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison writes about psychological violence with an engineer's precision and a poet's expansiveness. That's what makes works like "The Bluest Eye" and "Beloved" so hard to put down.
Readers of her novels have to be willing to go along for a journey through the lower chambers of sadness, and witness graphic scenes of strife and disillusionment that are both particular to the African-American experience and universal in their symbolism.
Such is the case with her latest, all-too-brief, 145-page novel, "Home," the story of a traumatized young, black Korean War veteran who returns from the battlefield in a psychic haze, only to confront the perils of racism and oppression in his native country.
His name is Frank Money, which is notable because he's dead broke. The novel begins with Frank barefoot and barely clothed in the middle of winter, taking refuge at the home of a minister in Seattle after escaping from a mental ward. Apparently he suffers from post-traumatic-stress disorder from fighting in the war, a condition that causes weird fits of colorblindness, hallucinations and blackouts. He can hardly recall what led to his confinement.
What he does know is this: He needs to reunite with his distressed little sister Cee and make it back to the place where they grew up, Lotus, Ga., a town his family fled to when they were run off their own property by what appeared to be members of the Ku Klux Klan.
Frank's memories of Lotus are bittersweet. He recalls hanging out with his friends (two of whom died in the war) and Cee in the countryside, but also the tough love of their grandmother Lenore, who was like a "wicked witch" to them. Their own parents were always so tired after long days at work in the fields they that "any affection they showed was like a razor — sharp, short, and thin."
"Lotus, Georgia, is the worst place in the world, worse than any battlefield," Frank tells us in one of the first-person passages that complement the author's narration. In Lotus, "there was no goal other than breathing, nothing to win and, save for somebody else's quiet death, nothing to survive or worth surviving for."
Frank dreads having to go back and reconnect with its awfulness. But he feels obligated to look after his sister.
Frank's journey back to the South is also a journey through a period in African-American history when blacks had to lean on each other for everything. The broader society had relegated them to the status of second-class citizens or, as Morrison shows, worse.
We get wisps of normality in Frank's life in his relationship with an ambitious woman named Lily in Seattle. But one can't help but feel he might not find his footing. He needs to make it back home, but for him "home" is a wholeness that can only come from reconciling with his past and finding peace of mind.
Tyrone Beason is a writer
for Pacific Northwest Magazine.