Striking elements of Toni Morrison’s other novels occur in her latest book “Home.” Like “Jazz,” “Paradise,” “Beloved,” “Love” and “Sula,” a single word is enough for a title. And as in all of her books Morrison interweaves rich strands of African American culture against the menace of racism in the compelling and brief tapestry that is “Home.”
At the very beginning the reader is not sure what’s going on, but this is a stylistic mainstay of Morrison’s, something she does as well as any writer and you know that eventually the pieces of the quilt will come together in a logical, if sometimes a mystical whole cloth.
Frank “Smart” Money (who is perennially broke) is a war-haunted Korean veteran who is reminiscent of Shadrack in “Sula,” struggling to overcome the horrors of war and the loss of his two closest friends. We encounter him first as “barefoot escapee from a nuthouse.” His sister, Ycidra or Cee for a moment brings to mind Denver from “Beloved” who is born on the road and because of this circumstance doomed to a “sinful, worthless life.”
In several ways the sibling relationship between Frank and Cee is similar to that of Milkman and Pilate in “Song of Solomon,” particularly after they go their separate ways and in their meandering, trouble-ridden search to get back home.
And Pilate’s attachment to bones will surely come to mind when toward the end of “Home” Frank and Cee return to a childhood patch of land to dig up some bones to be reinterred at another more ceremonious spot. In both instances the bones symbolize a sense of the past and the responsibility the three characters have in protecting it.
Like “Beloved,” “Home” is a series of chapters centered on various characters and told in an interrupted circularity. Other than Frank and Cee, only Lily, Frank’s estranged but talented wife, and Lenore, the children’s ogre-like mother, are given more than cameo appearances.
No Morrison novel is without a set piece of startling incredibility and in “Home” it’s the revelation that baffle Frank and Cee as children that is later explained by a Greek Chorus of old Black men around a chess board. Readers may see the terrible tableau they expose as a more deadly version of “Battle Royal” that takes place in Ellison’s “Invisible Man.”
There’s a nice riff that could have come from “Jazz” when Morrison notes how “Truman’s bomb changed everything and only scat and bebop could say now.” And, of course, Morrison knows how to drop dollops of pertinent social and political issues such as racial profiling, redlining, restrictive covenants, et al that have plagued the African American passage to justice and equality.
Morrison’s metaphors are always delightful moments and such turns as “quick as a hummingbird” and “sober as sunlight” are the ones that standout among many.
As the title suggests, the quest for home is what drives the narrative but getting there, as in all of her work, is what makes Morrison’s trips so marvelous and entertaining. Getting home is also Frank and Cee’s search for themselves and in the end they discover how mutually dependent their journeys are.