Home by Toni Morrison
Publisher/Year: Knopf, 2012
What it is: A novella about a traumatized Korean War veteran’s return home — both literally and figuratively — upon hearing disturbing news about his sister.
Why I read it: Toni Morrison is one of my favorite authors.
What I thought: It’s been a while since I’ve read a Morrison book, but there’s something instantly familiar about all of her writing. There are actually two stories — and “homecomings” — going on here: Frank Money’s and his sister, Cee’s. It’s a very short book that can easily be read in one sitting, but by the end, you still feel like you intimately know Frank and Cee, and understand why they make the decisions they do. There’s little flair to this book; Morrison’s writing is spare and straightforward, but it is no less powerful or lyrical. Her characterizations are spot on, and her storytelling abilities never fail to inspire me.
A taste: “There was no love from Jessie Maynard in Portland. Help, yes. But the contempt was glacial. The Reverend was devoted to the needy, apparently, but only if they were properly clothed and not a young, hale, and very tall veteran.”
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Publisher/Year: Picador, 2009 (reprint)
What it is: Set in 1970s Michigan, a group of adolescent boys struggle to make sense of the mysterious Lisbon family. Starting with Cecilia Lisbon’s suicide attempt, the boys become obsessed with trying to figure out why each of the five Lisbon girls eventually commit suicide.
Why I read it: I love Eugenides, and this was the only novel of his that I still hadn’t read.
What I thought: I already knew what was going to happen because I saw Sofia Coppola’s film adaptation years ago when it first came out. The film is pretty faithful to the book…and I thought the film was overrated. Unfortunately, that sentiment carried over to the book as well. It’s not a bad book, but it just didn’t do much for me. Eugenides’ writing is gorgeous as usual, but I just never really latched onto the story. Since it’s told from the point of view of a bunch of boys who were witnessing the Lisbons’ downfall from afar, the reader never really finds out what went on in the Lisbon household; you’re only given the same clues the boys were given, and you’re left to piece together whatever you can. Personally, I would have preferred the book from the Lisbon girls’ point of view, even though it would have meant taking away some of their mystery.
Added bonus: Eugenides signed my copy! (He also gave me a brief etymology of “Melissa.” It was awesome.)
Edit: Ha…just kidding. I’d written that The Virgin Suicides won a Pulitzer, but it didn’t. I was thinking of Middlesex, which did win a Pulitzer (and is my favorite Eugenides book).