When I heard that Toni Morrison was coming out with a new novel, I was absolutely excited. I loved Paradise and Beloved (so much so that I've never written a review of either of them) so I pre-ordered a copy of Home as soon as I could. I got my copy yesterday (the release day) and I finished it this morning. I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting, but this novella was different altogether from any of my expectations.
This novella was very different from other Morrison books that I've read. It was, first and foremost, easy to read. Beloved took me over a month to get through because it was so dense and so difficult; Home took me only a few hours. I was, I have to admit, a little surprised and even disappointed at how easy the prose was. Though the chapters switch between narrators, with a majority of the chapters being from Frank's perspective, the narrators of each chapter are always characters that have been previously introduce and are always identified in the first few sentences of their chapter. The reader never has to figure out who is talking or what is going on, so long as they can remember names. The chapters alternate between the story itself, told by the various narrators, and chapters in which Frank addresses the author directly, telling them what really happened, how he really felt, and occasionally correcting things that the author previously wrote. I really enjoyed those chapters, because they called attention to the act of storytelling itself, to the fact that someone who is not the characters is writing these things, to the idea that sometimes the author messes things up. I thought that technique was very cool, and it isn't something I've seen Morrison do before.
Possibly because the book was so short, I had a hard time connecting to the characters the way I have with her other novels. While they are good round characters, they aren't nearly as fleshed out as Sethe or the women from Paradise. I feel like this was more a novel of setting and theme than of characters, which is usually ok by me, but since this book was about Frank finding his sense of home, I wanted to connect with him a bit more. While it let me down in character development, it was great in setting. You get a good sense from the writing of what life was like for poor black people in the South, the way that injustice and violence from whites and the police was normal, an everyday hazard to be avoided rather than something surprising or unusual. Home includes a lot of the things that were happening at the time, segregation, eugenics, bebop, and obviously the Korean war. Mostly these elements are woven into the story seamlessly and organically. To balance out the injustice and sadness there were always communities, churches, and helpful strangers who supported each other where law and prejudice let them down. I loved that this book showed the ways that black people rallied and helped each other. So often we think of blacks before the civil rights movement as being poor downtrodden helpless people, but the reality is that they were often very strong, supporting each other and getting through with hard work, community, and a refusal to let poverty and hate grind them down. I think this book did a great job showing that without watering down the real pain of injustice and violence that comes with war and segregation. It's a delicate balance, but for the most part I think it's a balance that Home strikes very well.
As I mentioned earlier, the writing in Home is much easier and simpler than in the other Morrison novels I've read. The themes were generally just as subtle and nuanced as I expect from her, with the situations, problems, and solutions feeling real and honest rather than contrived or pedantic. That said, some parts of the last few chapters felt a little too obvious for me. Unlike in Beloved, in Home Morrison basically hands the reader the solution or moral that Cee and Frank have to find, explaining it to us in clear language. While this isn't always a bad thing, and in some novels those revelations are often the most beautiful parts, in Home it felt a little too easy. Maybe it's because I was expecting something more like her other novels, but the simplicity of those last few chapters left me a bit disappointed. They were beautiful, thematic, and they structurally balanced out the novel, but they just felt too easy.
So, after all this, what did I think of Home? It was good, definitely, but it certainly wasn't her best novel. I think it would be a perfect introduction to Toni Morrison for people who haven't read her books and don't want to start with anything too difficult. It has all of her usual themes, her lovely use of setting, and her realistic characters, but it's shorter in length and has much easier prose. For people who don't usually read difficult literary fiction, this is the perfect introduction to Toni Morrison. For those of us who love her partially because of her difficulty, this probably won't stand out as one of her best novels. The writing was much more mature than in The Bluest Eye, but it wasn't as complex or as moving as Paradise or Beloved. I would definitely recommend it, but it isn't going to join her other works on the list of my favorite novels of all time.
Rating: 4 stars
Recommendations: Readable prose, realistic setting, ok character development. A quick, enjoyable, and contemplative read from a wonderful author. Not as substantial as some of her other works.