Toni Morrison's recent novel, Home, illustrates how novels manage to recover pieces of history historians have discarded--the population itself has discarded--and breathe life back into them.
Home is a post-Korean War tale about a brother and sister who grew up in Georgia, poor as dirt, were separated by a conflict neither understood, and then managed to reunite, still poor as dirt, diminished but loyal to their memories of their love for one another as children.
This is a short novel made longer by Morrison's effective disregard for elaborate transitions and detailed exposition. Things that can be shown are shown; things that have to be told are told. The point of view wanders, but it wanders in the right direction, each time picking up a piece of the overall tale where it needs to be picked up.
Everything hinges on Frank Money making it back across the country, from west to east, before his younger sister, Cee, succumbs to the effects of strange experiments performed on her by a doctor recklessly trying to develop better gynecological (and abortion) instruments.
The joke, of course, is that Frank Money never has any money, so his trip isn't easy. It becomes a brutal excursion through an America that abused African-Americans often and without end. There's anger driving these incidents and scenes, but it doesn't need to comment on itself: who wouldn't be angry that this is our history?
This, indeed, is where Morrison does her best work as a novelist/historian: putting the facts into narrative flesh and letting them speak for themselves. You can't eat here, you can't walk here, you can't live here, you can't be safe, you'd better learn to be sorry 'cause that's how it's going to be for you from beginning to end.
And yet in between, in the Georgia settlement called Lotus, a scattering of shacks and unpaved roads back off the highway, some real people lived when Frank and Cee were children and continue to care for them when they are reunited as adults. This full-circle approach is basically the novel's form--Frank and Cee coming back to where they began, at least having each other and a handful of equally abused neighbors willing to give them a hand, nurse them, acknowledge their humanity.
Morrison writes so quietly and fluently about people who deserve better than they get that it is difficult to imagine a reader who wouldn't enjoy and appreciate Home.
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