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By Toni Morrison. Knopf, $24.
“Don’t paint me as some enthusiastic hero,” whispers the voice of the main character in interstitials between the chapters of Morrison’s latest novel, Home. Though the Korean War vet Frank “Smart” Money may be fictional, he’s insistent. As he asserts himself to ensure that the nameless narrator of his tale portrays him without hyperbole, his voice also seems to be that of Morrison keeping herself in check. It’s a voice that demands both honesty and restraint, and Morrison obeys it.
“Smart” Money is an angry shell of a man who, ironically, isn’t rich and is guided more by instinct than intelligence. Once he receives a shocking letter concerning his sister’s health, he abandons an aimless life in the Northwest. Coping with memories of lost love, war and his own sudden fits of rage, he makes his way to Georgia to save the sibling for whom he’d always been responsible. Money and his old hometown are much changed, and he must come to terms with that transformation before destroying himself and those around him.
Home is a brief but effective novel; in Morrison’s canon, it sits nearer her slender, sinewy latter works (including Love and A Mercy) than her lyrically expansive early novels. In a haze of locations fraught with possibilities of deception and violence, Money and his sister Cee are met with hostility and disgust from both black and white people. (Skin color is mentioned only obliquely, but Morrison adroitly implies that the divide between the fearful, oppressive haves and the yearning have-nots is a racial one.) Morrison wants her reader to take in all of the harrowing circumstances, and unpack her characters’ salvation after it’s all over; but it is hard not to miss her grand lyricism, which could have illuminated this dark narrative more than any cautionary whisper allows.
Toni Morrison reads and talks at Symphony Space Wed 9.