Loads of Learned Lumber

Monday, June 11, 2012

Toni Morrison, _Home_

IS THERE SOMETHING about aging novelists that draws them to ancient, elemental stories? The Old Man and the Sea, A Fable, East of Eden...more recently, Marilynne Robinson's Gilead and Home, both of which invoke the Prodigal Son, or Roth's Nemesis. Finnegans Wake is (among other things) a compendium of ancient stories. So, what brings this impulse on? An attempt to get to the essence of life?  Flagging inspiration?

In Morrison's Home, Frank Money, a wounded warrior traumatized by his war experience (does it seem that every Morrison novel from Beloved on is about life on the other side of trauma?), learns his sister is in a terrible way, perhaps soon to die.  he has to get home.  Will he accept the quest, find his way home, save his sister, save himself in the process, and see his old home town with fresh eyes, detecting meaning and purpose where he had never seen them before?  ("And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.")

Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes.

Morrison obviously wants us to recognize the folk-tale architecture of her novel (or novella); one character is likened to a witch, another to a queen, another is named "Prince," and the Mengele-like doctor performing abominable "experiments" on Frank's sister will do for an evil wizard.

Home is not great Morrison--not enough surprises.  On the other hand, it's a breezy read, unlike Marilynne Robinson's relatively recent novel of the same name, which for me silted-up past the point of hope for progress about a hundred pages in.

Loved the narrator's interviews with Frank, though.  Morrison always likes to give her characters room to breathe (Jazz my favorite in this respect) and the Frank speaking in the interview-like chapters comes all the way alive.

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