Frank Money, a hulking, traumatized Korean War veteran, his postwar life a shambles, escapes a West Coast mental ward and makes it his mission to save his “pet kitten” sister Ycidra, or Cee, who has naively fallen into the conniving hands of an Atlanta doctor who toys with eugenics.
Morrison’s slender novel is an astute slice-of-life panorama of 1950s America that, as always, spits out the secretions of segregation, in this case covering the compost of the separate-but-equal 1950s. Three capsules, Frank’s escape and southern journey, the Money family’s brutal history in Lotus, Georgia, and Cee’s cruel progress, are caressed and compressed to give the period’s hard humanity a voice.
Frank is a quiet bull who sees his best friends shredded in combat (“colorful guts underneath that oh-so-thin sheet of flesh…”), is whipped up into murdering a Korean child scavenger, and once back becomes a ghost-like drinker burdened by “self-loathing disguised as someone else’s fault.” Cee is a sweet girl-child who endures a stepmother’s hatred but is unable to look at let alone save herself from “the slaughter that went on in the world.”
The Frank-Cee reunion — finally home in Lotus — ties up the yearning laid out by the premise, loosely rounding out the fate of both brother and sister. The novel’s strength is Morrison’s humanity and he pungent view of life in Lotus amid mothers who grew up “during the period that rich people called the Depression and they called life”; its weakness a potentially intentional reluctance to decide what matters most, the history of people or their place in time. The result gives Frank and Cee a stunted, novella-like lineage that too often prefers the symbolic to the substantive