Toni Morrison is a national treasure. At 81 years young, this empress of literature has seen her Pulitzer-winning work adapted by Hollywood (1987’s Beloved), scored a Nobel Prize and has long been required reading at universities around the world—to say nothing of Oprah’s Book Club. Morrison’s poetic prose elevated her nine novels to rare space in American letters, where an African-American author might be canonized for posterity alongside the likes of undisputed masters such as Mark Twain or James Joyce. Home, her 10th, marks another of her return-of-the-native dramas told in the straightforward lyrical style (see 2003’s Love, and A Mercy from ’08) of Morrison’s 21st-century late period.
Morrison will never not know what she’s doing; she’s too long in the tooth as a precise storyteller for that. The tale this time centers on Frank Money, a troubled Korean War vet on a mission to save his younger sister, Ycidra (known as Cee), from a sadistic doctor down South. The story unspools steadily, in a narrative so spare it might well be considered a novella at 145 pages thin. Describing the beats of Home’s plot, it’s quite possible to give away the entire book.
Frank escapes a mental hospital and heads down to 1950s Atlanta by train to rescue Cee, after a mysterious letter arrives from someone warning him that his sister is in great danger. As he trains it from up north, we learn about their childhood in small-town Lotus, Georgia, and his young homeboys-turned-army buddies who died fighting with him on East Asian battlefields. Morrison relates Frank Money’s story, but in a stylistic flourish, certain chapters feature meta-commentary from Money himself in a first-person dispute with his own narrator.
Hardly a male-dominated story, Home also gives over ample space to sister Cee. Duped by a no-count “frog” of a beau named Prince, she leaves Lotus for Atlanta only to be abandoned when her young husband steals their car and leaves her behind. Sinking deeper, she finds assistant work with a White doctor who ultimately abuses her birth canal with eugenics experimentation. Only when Frank returns Cee to the healing circle of Lotus’s local women does she finally blossom into an autonomous womanhood.
Black America lost one of its greatest masters of dialogue with the death of the late playwright August Wilson in 2005. Thankfully, Toni Morrison is still alive, creatively vibrant and writing strong: Home is full of inspired back-and-forth talk between characters that will remind Black readers of conversations from grandparents, older aunts and uncles. Complaints about the challenges of reading Morrison have grown over the years; from Beloved on, most of her novels benefit from repeated readings, and most people don’t like working that hard. But Home, like A Mercy from four years ago, is slim with a more accessible prose style that doesn’t skimp on the beauty of her literary language.
Like Gordon Parks—who passed away still working on photography projects at 93—Toni Morrison is a living legend whose creative spark keeps her eternally, youthfully imaginative. As we dig in with Home, her next novel is already coming to life one page at a time, this one set among “contemporary times and themes,” according to a recent New York magazine profile interview. Morrison lovers will savor her words as long as she remains in full command of their power. With Home, Morrison’s dominion shows no signs of fading.