book cover from Goodreads
Toni Morrison speaking at “A Tribute to Chinua Achebe – 50 Years Anniversary of ‘Things Fall Apart'”. The Town Hall, New York City, February 26th 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Full Disclosure: I am a huge Toni Morrison fan – like the read all of her novels, follow her on Facebook, order her new releases months in advance kind of fan. My English teacher assigned Song of Solomon when I was in high school and I’ve been hooked ever since. Fellow readers have told me time and again that they just don’t get my obsession. They claim her books are messy and unfocused, too much that’s unbelievable, language that’s too dense. “What’s the story,” they’ll ask. These are the very reasons I adore her. Before I knew the term magical realism, I understood Morrison’s mysticism. I fell in love with her language and never looked back.
So with all that baggage, I should not be surprised that her new slip of a novel could disappoint me. Set around the Korean War, the Money siblings just can’t seem to catch a break. Frank has watched his best friends die in war and returns home unable to face reality or return to his hometown.
In Lotus you did know in advance since there was no future, just long stretches of killing time. There was no goal other than breathing, nothing to win, and save for somebody else’s quiet death, nothing to survive or worth surviving for.”
Only when he finds out his beloved little sister Cee’s life is in danger is he able to take some action. From this premise, Morrison weaves her story in no specific chronological order, with alternating perspectives and bits and pieces of historical context. None of those devices are out of character for her, but in this case, it took me far too long to care about these characters.
I wanted to love Frank and be invested in his journey. Morrison gives us a glimpse into his soul —
As she stretched, her dress of a soft cottony flowered fabric rose up, exposing that seldom noticed, ooo-so-vulnerable flesh. And for a reason he still didn’t understand, he began to cry. Love plain, simple, and so fast it shattered him.”
But she pulls the story away from Frank before I can connect. The same is true of his trauma in Korea. We get so little of what could really have been an amazing book.
What died in his arms gave grotesque life to his childhood…They argued, fought, laughed, mocked, and loved one another without ever having to say so.”
Morrison hints at the bond shared by Frank and his friends, but I never truly understand the bond or its importance to him.
But, just as I was beginning to despair that I would never love this book, she pulls magic out of her hat. Through Cee’s journey the kinds of characters and language I identify so strongly with Toni Morrison begin to appear.
Misery don’t call ahead. That’s why you have to stay awake — otherwise it just walks on in your door.”
The wisdom in the mouths of older, uneducated black women felt familiar and right. Perhaps I felt like I’d read this section of the book before, but with so many pages leaving me without any footing, I was thrilled to take comfort in the ending.
Glad I read it, but not rushing out to recommend it.