Review | Friday 04 May 2012
Toni Morrison’s tenth novel, Home, is a quiet revelation of masculinity and patriotism. In the opening image, Korean War veteran Frank observes the stance of horses as he hides with his sister Cee. ‘They rose up like men. We saw them. Like men they stood,’ he says to an unnamed narrator. What is a man, and indeed, what is he in relation to war? asks the novel in return.
Home begins with Frank’s return to America. For reasons he does not know he has been institutionalised in a mental hospital. A letter from a mysterious woman suggests that his sister might be dying. Spurred on, he escapes and begins his journey home. At the same time, Cee, previously coddled and protected by Frank, applies for a job for a white doctor who, unknown to Cee, is a pioneer of eugenics. This sets up some compelling and complex questions for the remaining narrative to answer: America circa 1950s is a racist country, and on his journey Frank struggles with many demons, both internal and external.
Where the novel falls short is in its brevity. The characters are archetypes and are boldly drawn – the brooding, angry soldier, and the down-trod, unwanted girl – however at less than 150 pages, the exploration afforded to them is lightly drawn. The revelations at the end are surprising but skipped over, and both Frank’s redemption and Cee’s recovery are considerably reduced. Although Morrison writes economically and with poetic power, as a result it feels at times as if the spaces between images are too unexplored.
At 81, Toni Morrison is a literary legend, having recently been awarded the Presidential Award of Freedom by US president Barack Obama. Although not as complex as her best novels, Home is still a formidable addition to her body of work. It is also sign that she has not finished yet.
Nicole Lee is a writer and actor living in Melbourne. When she is not prancing around a stage or writing furtively at the back of a café, she can be found working at Readings St Kilda.