#CBR7 Review #182: Tar Baby by Toni Morrison

I’m winding down to the last few Toni Morrison books I’ve never read, and I decided that audiobook would be a good way to help me out with that. I really enjoyed having Morrison read me A Mercy and Home, so a different reader would still work out the same, right? As it turns out, Tar Baby took me for.ever. to get through. I can pretty much say it’s my least favorite Morrison so far. Though I still have Beloved and Song of Solomon to read, so I’ll hold off judgment for now…

Tar Baby is an intense character study of a small group situated on Isle de Chevalier, a private Caribbean island. Valerian Street is a wealthy, white, sweets magnate who has retired to a Isle de Chevalier with his younger wife Margaret and his two servants, a husband-and-wife couple named Sydney and Ondine. The Streets’ son Michael, plagued by white guilt, has spent his life post-college working for various causes and won’t come home. Sydney and Ondine’s biracial niece Jadine has received the patronage of the Streets and has been educated at Paris. She is home for Christmas but working towards promising modelling jobs in Paris, with a hinted-at Parisian lover. The equilibrium of the world falls apart when a black dreadlocked man who will only go by the name of “Son” is found hiding in a closet. Son stirs something in each individual, and through him, everyone must confront their own notions of race and ethnicity, causing secrets to be exposes and tensions to roil on the island.

I would have had a better reading experience had I just read this over a long weekend in one sitting. The story takes a really long time to set up, and the crisis really does not take place till well over halfway into the story. Not conducive for good audiobook listening. I stubbornly made myself finish, because I have another Cannonball to finish, dammit, but it was a slog at points. The racial and ethnic commentary Morrison brings up is incredible, but I feel like it’s better done in some of her other works. This is a book that would have been better read than listened, to, in my opinion.


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