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Mini-review of Toni Morrison's "Home"


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#1 Cynique

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Posted 10 June 2012 - 08:09 PM

I just recently completed Toni Morrison’s latest book “Home”, a novel I have been looking forward to reading because its advance notices promoted it as being set in the 1950s, an era I could relate to. Since many of Morrison’s novels take place way back in the day, I was glad she had chosen to write about what was, to me, a more recent period in history.
I was curious about how Ms Morrison would portray the 1950s which have been referred to as not only a bland and innocent time populated by the “silent generation“, but also the decade that was ripe for the civil rights movement it spawned. I anticipated she would write about a passive race of people, done with being patient, spurred into protest by dynamic leaders like Martin Luther King, and inspirational ones like Rosa Parks, and martyrs like Emmet Till, all played out against a backdrop of doo-wop music and Amos ‘N Andy TV and Dorothy Dandridge celebrity. The ‘50s I knew. Silly me.
I should’ve realized that Toni Morrison would never stoop to such mundane predictability. With Toni it’s never easy. And “Home” is vintage Morrison. So, before long, through the vividness of her prose fraught with its extraordinary metaphors, and the wretched poignancy of her characters, I was beyond reading this book; I was experiencing it. In my imagination I was there, immersed in a version of life in the 50s that was diametrically opposed to the one I led back then as a young black woman residing in a small integrated suburb of Chicago.
Crouched in the unforgiving frozen terrain of Korea, killing to keep from being killed while dodging bullets, I was there with the book's protagonist, Frank Money, as he witnessed the horrible deaths of the homeboys with whom he had enlisted in the Army, hoping to escape the dead-end drudgery that was their fate as black youth bogged down in the dusty little rural town of Lotus, Georgia. There, following Frank through the post traumatic stress that plagues him as a shell-shocked war veteran, wandering the dangerous streets of northern cities, working his way through despair with whiskey and the fleeting love of Lilly, a comely, ambitious woman not content to be his ongoing caregiver. There, listening to the frenetic be-bop music in a smoky little night club, visited between trains on his way back to rescue his gullible younger sister, “Cee”, who has been victimized and sterilized by a mad professor of eugenics.
And, in the end, there, back in the confines of a hapless little town that modernization forgot, and slavery remembered. Yet a place that is also a welcoming haven not lacking in the homespun warmth and time-worn wisdom embodied by its black inhabitants, common folk of varying degrees of good and evil who, through the worst of conditions have endured, blissful in their ignorance, secure in their belief that “be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home”.
As the book draws to its close I was also there, witnessing a reappearing zoot-suited phantom who like the style he sported, comes and finally goes with a smile on his face, signalling that "all's well, that ends well".
At 145 pages, “Home” is a short intense novel, something which always earns points with me, and a satisfactory read for those who are up to the challenge of spinning straw into gold. Finally, because it is what it is, I have no choice but to give this good thing that came in a small package, 4 stars. * * * *

#2 Waterstar

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Posted 11 June 2012 - 09:58 PM

Even your reviews are beautifully poetic.

Cynique, have you any guesses as to why Toni Morrison chose to write about that particular era in this so-called "post-racial" error (oops) era?

#3 Troy

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Posted 13 June 2012 - 03:17 PM

OK this will be the next book I read, physical version.

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#4 Cynique

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Posted 13 June 2012 - 04:37 PM

Even your reviews are beautifully poetic.

Cynique, have you any guesses as to why Toni Morrison chose to write about that particular era in this so-called "post-racial" error (oops) era?


Oops I missed your question, Waterstar. I'd guess Toni decided to write about her era. She is, after all, a "Depression baby" who came of age during the 1950s. She chose to focus on a more seamier side of life back then as opposed to the propriety that is usually associated with this "prim" period in American history - as usual. Morrison never wants her readers to be too comfortable. She wants to stimulate and challenge them with her prose and her cryptic messsages.

Troy, I'd be interested in your impression of this book. I think a man might take a different view of it.

#5 Troy

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Posted 17 June 2012 - 08:29 AM

Hey Cynique, a couple of days ago I went to my local B&N bookstore picked up the book noticed how slim it was, looked at the $24 price tag and almost choked. I could not bring myself to make the buy. I went back home a brought it here off my Toni Morrison page: http://aalbc.com/authors/toni.htm save $10, free shipping and it will be at my door on Wednesday. Knopf should have sent me a galley anyway, but that is another story...

Anywho judging by the size I'll probably finish in one sitting -- maybe I'll go the beach and make a day of it.

I stumbled across a less complementary review here: Toni Morrison's 'Home' finds her fumbling the reviewer concludes:

This critique -- that soldiers returning home often come back too bruised to function in the country they've protected -- is searing, relevant insight into a problem seen today, but Ms. Morrison can do little with it when most characters feel like passing visitors and not fully-formed identities.
Instead, she settles for an easy narrative that feels weighed down by its own search for importance, and while it sounds pretty sometimes, never finds a resplendence to place it alongside her better, more realized work.


I will certainly let you know what I think though, keep in mind, I do not possess your eloquence.
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#6 Cynique

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Posted 17 June 2012 - 11:25 AM

I checked my copy of "Home" out of the library, Troy because I was there browsing and much to my surprise came across it on the "new releases" shelf so I snapped it up - for free.

I would concur with the blurb you included. "Home" was not a character-driven book, and its plot was sketchy, but I gave it the benefit of the doubt, because I figured who am I to diss Pulitzer prize-winning, Nobel laureate Toni Morrison?. No pun intended but when discerning the intent of aToni Morrison book, you and her have to be on the same page.

#7 Troy

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Posted 17 June 2012 - 11:51 AM

Cynique, I disagree with you. The book was written, presumably, for readers like us, therefore we have every right to be critical of it. An unfavorable critique of one work is not a "diss" on Morrison. Further, all of her awards does not make her immune to such criticism.

Without such criticism, publishing companies will continue to take advantage of us by doling out, over priced, incomplete novels from famous authors, for a quick payday. Would we know Toni Morrison today is "Home" was published in 1970 rather than the "Bluest Eye"?

Cynique, Morrison is no spring chicken and the prospects of another "Beloved" are nil. Do you think a novel like "Home" hurts her legacy? Do you see any parallels between, say Ali boxing well past his prime where the real beneficiaries are the promoters?

It is a good thing there are still libraries.
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#8 Cynique

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Posted 17 June 2012 - 01:35 PM

Well, again, Troy I chose to experience this book, and to me this was easy to do because Morrison provided the settings for you to immerse yourself in. I personally didn't have a need to know more about the characters because they were not compelling people, but simply products of their dreary environments. And this is where Toni's technique and style come into play. She requires the reader to transcend the circumstances and to distill what can be learned from the journey. In this case the message to me was that "happiness is relative".

In reading "Home", I didn't really compare the Korean vet of yesterday to the Iraqi/ Afghanistan ones of today because that was too easy to do. I'm never shocked by how history repeats itself because I've lived long enough to expect this. Life does what it does. This is a hard realization for some to accept, for those who think they can manipuate rather than navigate the obstacle path of their existences.

As for how this book stacked up against the other ones I have read by her, it's somewhere in the middle. But I did like "Home" better than the long overwrought "Beloved" for the simple reason that it was shorter. I don't think "Home" will harm the body of work that is Toni Morrison's legacy.

I wouldn't dispute that Morrison's publishers depend on Toni getting by on her reputation, but then she's earned the right to do this. Just like Maya Angelou. As for comparing Toni to Ali, I'd just say that rather than being a pathetic figure - a ghost of his past self, she remains aloof and in tact, changed only by her gray hair.

#9 Troy

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Posted 19 June 2012 - 11:30 AM

Got it -- thanks. I should have my copy tomorrow.
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#10 admin

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 08:27 AM

Well I finished the book. Funny I picked up the paperback of Wilkerson's tome "The Warmth of other Suns" to read next, from a local independent bookstore, and it must be 10 times as long -- easily -- and it still cost less than Morrison's pamphlet. I know, I know, I'm too fixated on the price of Morrison's circular -- I'm just saying it was too short to be called a "novel".

I thought the book was well written. There was no "plot". I thought it was an interesting insight into Frank Money's motivations and experiences. I like Morrison's writing style her ability to conjure images is slightly reminiscent of Jean Tomer.

While I enjoyed the book I would not rave over it. It was simply to short compared to everything else that is available to read. But that can also be an advantage. If you are someone, who does not have a lot of time to read, and you want to sample Morrison, you can easily get through "Home" in a few hours. I read 1/2 of it in a sports bar, over fried pickles and beer, and finished it off before going to bed a few nights later.

Cynique can you go more into the Zoot suited character? I don't think i really "got" him. I understand wearing the Zoot suit was a "declaration of freedom and self-determination, even rebelliousness". Maybe the Zoot suited apparition signifying his approval by the end of the story represented Cee and Franks freedom or the beginning of it.

Also what do you think was the significance of reburying the killed father?

#11 Cynique

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 12:27 PM

Well, Troy, trying to explain a Toni Morrison book is a slipperly slope because her intent always seems to be to make the readers work at figuring things out for themselves, or at least to their own satisfaction. I would say that your interpretation of the zoot-suited character was as good as any.

Me, I wondered if it was about the zoot suit riots during the 1940s when young Black and Hispanic men on the west coast were attacked and murdered by white U. S. service men for wearing these outrageous outfits during World War II. They considered this garb disrespectful to military uniforms. Maybe the ghost was acting as a muse to Frank, a reminder of the collateral damages of war.????

I never was sure of who the man was that Frank and his sister saw being buried. But in any case resurrecting his body and giving it a proper burial seemed to be symbolic in some way, at least to the zoot-suited specter who faded away with a smile.

I did consider the short length of this book a plus because those are the kind of books I like, and the kind I write.

In retrospect, I would maybe give "Home" 3 stars instead of 4 because of how it stacks up against her other books.

#12 Troy

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Posted 28 June 2012 - 11:24 AM

See, I was completely unaware of the Zoot Suit riots. That actually strengthens my opinion about that character. While I have heard Morrison express a similar description about interpreting her work as you've described, I do think some interpretations are better than others -- or at least more informed. Your knowledge of the Zoot Suit riots is a perfect example. A younger person who has no clue what a Zoot is would be completely lost.

Which brings up another issue, in a longer novel the significance of the Zoot suit could have been brought out, in such a way as to not insult the intelligence of folks like you who know exactly what they are, but at the same time educate people who have know idea what they are. Again the novel's brevity make it impossible to most readers to easily "get it" -- most readers are not 70 something Black American women.

I too would give the Home 3 stars (out of 5).
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#13 Cynique

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Posted 28 June 2012 - 02:29 PM

Toni Morrison is not for everybody. She could be described as an esoteric writer. She does not dumb down her work, and she purposely makes it challenging. I suspect that with the obstinancy that sometimes come with old age, she couldn't care less whether or not people "get" her books.

Morrison has said things to the effect that not only are there good writers but, hopefully, good readers. A good reader, more often than not, is also a curious reader. If it is possible, a reader, ideally, should try to get more information about something in a book in which the author does not go into detail. This is one way people become knowledgeable. But, this is the age of instant gratification, and the idea of voluntarily researching a subject is not something that most young people are inclinded to do and which is why they are not that knowledgeable.

BTW, I think Morrison did describe how a zoot suit looked in the book, and did make a brief reference to the murders that occurred in connection with them. Anyway, I was just a young kid when the zoot riots occurred. I do remember young black guys in the midwest wearing these suits because some of my older brother's friends did. However, it was as a 20-year-old in a college sociology class, that I learned about these West Coast riots. Upon reading about zoot suits in Toni's book, just to make sure of my recollections about the riots, I looked the subject up on Wikipedia. I always refresh my memories by verifying them is some way. I am a curious person.

#14 Anonymous

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Posted 28 June 2012 - 08:19 PM

Hey everybody. Thought I'd jump in on this one because I've been meaning to see if my library has this book. I was just there yesterday and for the life of me couldn't remember which book it was that I was meaning to look for! I ended up checking out Perfect Peace by Daniel Black. Now I am going to have to make a mental note that the book is called Home, and hope that I don't forget again.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to reading it especially since the setting is the 1950's. I remember seeing the zoot suiters in the movie "American Me" and I did a little digging (I'm nosy) to find out more...and so of course I learned about the riots. Anyway, I also like the fact that Home is a novelette. I've only read one book by Morrison, and that was twenty years ago. It was Beloved, and I had to read it for a literature class. For some reason I never tried anything else by Morrison, even though I'm well aware that she is a famous author. But always in the back of my mind is this reminder to "try one of Toni Morrison's books" so now I'm going to give Home a try. And since I'm not familiar with her writing style, I am glad that the book is short. That way I can finish it, even if I don't like it.

#15 Troy

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Posted 30 June 2012 - 12:10 PM

Well Cynique I too read more about Zoots suits to help me form a conclusion about their significance in the story. I'm curious too. So while Morrison leaves it up to the reader to divine the significance of the Zoot suited character I think an additional page or two could have saved the reader some unnecessary effort.

It is one thing to read up on Zoot Suits for additional insight (as we did), but it is entirely different thing for the reader to HAVE to do it, to have a clue what is going on. I'm sure anyone picking up a Morrison novel does not need to be talked down to, but it I want to solve puzzles I'd pick up the NY Times Crossword.

I think Morrison's apparent "obstinacy" comes more from her personality than her age. I don't know Morrison personally, so my assumption is admittedly a leap. However, I would not put the entire blame at Morrison's door step. Indeed most of my complaints belongs with the publisher who released this slim volume and priced it as if it were a full novel.

Writegirl, if you read Beloved and it did not make an impression on you, I don't think you are gonna gain any additional insight into Toni's writing style by reading Home. I would go with The Bluest Eye or re-read Beloved. Beloved is a really good book.

Black's Perfect Peace was the novel I read just before Home. Everyone raves over this Black latest novel. I enjoyed it, certainly much more than I did Morrisons' Home. Perfect Peace really seems to resonate with women in particular. It is a book I recommend to female readers. I ran into Daniel in Houston a couple of weeks ago and shot this video of him:

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#16 Waterstar

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Posted 30 June 2012 - 08:32 PM

Hey everybody. Thought I'd jump in on this one because I've been meaning to see if my library has this book. I was just there yesterday and for the life of me couldn't remember which book it was that I was meaning to look for! I ended up checking out Perfect Peace by Daniel Black. Now I am going to have to make a mental note that the book is called Home, and hope that I don't forget again.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to reading it especially since the setting is the 1950's. I remember seeing the zoot suiters in the movie "American Me" and I did a little digging (I'm nosy) to find out more...and so of course I learned about the riots. Anyway, I also like the fact that Home is a novelette. I've only read one book by Morrison, and that was twenty years ago. It was Beloved, and I had to read it for a literature class. For some reason I never tried anything else by Morrison, even though I'm well aware that she is a famous author. But always in the back of my mind is this reminder to "try one of Toni Morrison's books" so now I'm going to give Home a try. And since I'm not familiar with her writing style, I am glad that the book is short. That way I can finish it, even if I don't like it.


Try The Bluest Eye (Toni Morrison).

Mama Toni Morrison writes spirit-led works and every single stroke of her pen/keyboard serves for the purpose of uplift. Writing is more than craft for those keepers of The Way like her; writing is soul's work and we really need more like her, keepers of The Way, griots with that true sense of ancestral responsibility and artistic integrity. .

Toni Morrison explains her novel Home in this following NPR interview:

http://onpoint.wbur....morrison/player




#17 Troy

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Posted 01 July 2012 - 08:11 AM

I listened to the interview this morning thanks for sharing -- as always.

Toni responses were not controversial at all. I'm sure, for example, she is capable of giving answers to questions about the Black church's reaction to same sex marriage rather than going off on some tangent about polygamy.
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#18 Anonymous

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Posted 02 July 2012 - 06:15 PM

I think the reason Beloved didn't have more of a lasting impact was because it was "required" reading and so that took the fun out of it for me. I was 18 at the time. But I know it had to be good, otherwise I wouldn't have even remembered the name of the title or the author. I remember watching the movie at some point in my life too, and thinking that the book was better. I've been meaning to try Bluest Eye as well. Maybe I can get to both of them this week since I'm off. I'm still reading Perfect Peace. For some reason I have reader's block already though (I'm not even halfway through).

#19 Troy

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Posted 03 July 2012 - 04:07 PM

Writergirl, most people I know who hard read Perfect Peace tore through it. It may not be your cup of tea... be sure to let me know what you think when you are done -- start a different conversation though.
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#20 Anonymous

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Posted 20 July 2012 - 09:40 AM

Decided to cut my teeth on a short story by Toni Morrison called "Racitatif"...found it in one of my literature books that I saved from school. Absolutely loved it! I can see why she's a big deal. Can't wait to read more. Couldn't find that Home book at the library though. Everybody's checking it out. Bluest Eye wasn't there either, but I'll check on it later.

Can't seem to get into Perfect Peace. I really really tried, but I just kept putting it down. I suspect that's because I just finished reading Ruth's Redemption & maybe my brain has had enough of stories set "back in the day"...So I'll give it a try in a few weeks & I'll post a review on the "what is everyone reading" thread, if I do end up finishing it.

But back to Toni Morrison, I gotta say I really really like her style. She doesn't give away anything; as a reader you have to think...and I love that. Maybe didn't like it so much when I was 20; but really can appreciate it at 40.

#21 Troy

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Posted 13 November 2012 - 10:53 PM

I just re-read this conversation and forgot how much I enjoy talking about books. Cynique watchu reading now (novelwise) maybe I can pick it up and we can chat :-)
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#22 Cynique

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Posted 14 November 2012 - 01:30 PM

Would you believe that your glowing recommendation for "The Devil in Silver" inspired me to send away for it? So checking it out tops my to-do list. Hope I can get my reading groove back on when I get my copy.

Meanwhile, I 'm picking up and putting down a nonfiction book entitled: "The Gospel according to Acharya". Kind of an alternative to the Bible, dissecting the Christian version, and examining how the message and characters in the Bible have their counter-parts in many different religions, and how the universal essence of all beliefs just reiterates the golden rule and the healing power of love. When it comes to prayer, it is relegated to the realm of meta-physics which explains it as being a form of auto-suggestion that incorporates positive thinking and taps into a universal force that can be channelled through deep concentration and meditation, - and yada, yada, yada. I buy into whatever resonates with me from all the different interpretations of a higher power. :rolleyes:

#23 Troy

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 11:58 AM

The Devil in Silver would be a great book to discuss. I have not read it. My recommendation was based upon the positives reviews made by sources I respect (lets see if my reliance on these types of reviews to identify a great read works in this case).

The Gospel According to Acharya sounds interesting, how did you learn about the book? How are you liking it so far?
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#24 Cynique

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 07:02 PM

Well, my copy of "The Devil in Silver" arrived today. I'm revving up my motor to plow through it. It's 406 pages.

The Gospel according to Acharya is standard reading for all the "free thinkers" out there. It was recommended to me by a guy who, incidentally, - refers to himself as a - free thinker. :)

I'm finding it interesting and plausible. It doesn't require the blind faith that calls for one to believe in miracles.

#25 Troy

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 09:32 PM

You call it free thinking, some call it blasphemy :o
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