Those are last two novels by Toni Morrison that I read last year and haven’t written a review on yet. It’s been a couple of months since I finished them and I’m sure I’ve already forgotten some of the details, but I want to write about them before they fade from my memory even more. As all the other books by Morrison, I liked them both, though Home more than God Save the Child.
Home tells the life stories of a brother and a sister, Frank and Ycidra Money. It’s told in alternative chapters in third person point-of-view and in first person. The first person is the voice of Frank, who provides key details to illuminate the chapters in between. As usual in Morrison’s novel, the timeline in not linear but loops back and forth between the past and the present of the novel. Frank is a veteran who served in the Korean war. He is locked up in a hospital for the insane, because he has flashbacks and fits, PTSD, I guess. We learn about his life since the war and during the war and about things that happened during his childhood. He receives a letter telling him that his sister, Ycidra (known as “Cee”) is very ill and maybe dying at her employer’s house, a gynecologist who did experiments on her. Frank, who has always felt responsible for and protective of his sister, makes her rescue his new purpose in life. He escapes from the hospital and travels to his sister. He manages to liberate her from the house of the horrific doctor and takes her to their hometown in Georgia, where the women of the community nurse her until she recovers.
Throughout the novel, we learn a lot about the two main characters, including a shocking incident in Frank’s life, wherein he committed a war crime. He leads up to the confession of it through misdirection but later tells the truth that he had been hiding from himself. And why did he commit the crime? Because he was made to feel disgusted about himself (very vague to avoid spoilers).
I have to say that the crux of the novel, Frank’s act, really shook me. Here I was liking Frank; he’s trying to be a decent guy, looking after his sister, dealing with his PTSD from the war, finding peace by returning to his home with his sister (a home they couldn’t leave soon enough when they were younger) and then this revelation. I found this harder to deal with than what Sethe did in Beloved, because Sethe acted out of misguided love and mercy, but Frank acted out of concern for himself (and it wasn’t a life or death situation for him). Very hard to emphasize with or even understand. So, it’s a memorable tale to mull over. I’m sure I will reread it eventually and maybe I will be less puzzled about it.
The novel, although short, also has at least one other main theme concerning a crime that Frank and Cee witness as children but didn’t quite understand. And it also tells the stories of some of their relatives; their father and mother, their grandparents.
God Save the Child is Morrison’s last novel. It tells the story of Bride and Booker, and the people their lives touch. Bride is a successful model, very dark-skinned who was an embarrassment to her mother because of her blackness. She was born very dark-skinned to a light-skinned couple whose marriage broke apart because of this “embarrassment”. So Bride spends all her childhood trying to gain her mother’s approval and love. Only once does she get it and that was for a lie, a lie that had terrible consequences for another person. Once Bride is grown up and has her modelling life, she no longer has much contact with her mother. She leads a very superficial unattached life until she meets Booker. Booker is from a loving, supportive family, but he is estranged from them because of a tragedy to which he thinks his family reacted inappropriately (I don’t think they did). Booker also rejects Bride, saying to her “You not the woman I want”. Bride becomes obsessed with him and searches for him after he left. When she finds him, they tell each other the pivotal events from their childhood that made them act the way they did. Their breakup was due to misunderstanding each other. They reconnect and the novel ends with Bride becoming pregnant. Her mother, Sweetness (what a name – she was anything but sweet to her daughter) exclaims:
“Listen to me. You are about to find out what it takes, how the world is, how it works and how it changes when you are a parent. Good luck and God help the child.”
Morrison, God Help the Child, last page.
Bride was messed up because of her upbringing and Booker was messed up because of what happened to his family (even though his parent were very supportive, quite different from Sweetness). I suppose that now Bride and Booker have a chance to do better for their child. Or not. No-one can foresee the future.
The novels are hard to rank because they are all so good, but this is my final ranking after reading all of them last year (I’ve changed the ranking since my last review):
- Song of Solomon
- The Bluest Eye
- A Mercy
- God Help the Child
- Tar Baby