Tar Baby by Toni Morrison

For those wondering, I’m in a graduate seminar on Toni Morrison this semester, we’re reading all of her novels in the order published and, in order to make time to work on my thesis, I’m reading ahead. I’ve decided to write my random thoughts on the novels down so that, when they do finally come up in class (well, I’m not that far ahead) I can look over then and, hopefully, still have an intelligent discussion about them. That being said, 99% of you will not find this interesting and that’s okay ;3 but I can’t spend a lot of time writing something and then not put it on teh interwebs, it’s like a sickness …

Oh and, incidentally, SPOILER ALERT!!!

Thus far we’ve read The Bluest Eye, Sula, and Song of Solomon, and while SOS came close to it, Tar Baby was probably the first one I actually had a really hard time putting down. However, and this is a big however, I have a real feeling that I’m not getting what I’m “supposed” to out of the novel. Why? Because the “main” characters are not very interesting to me … at all. So there’s Valerian Street (now that’s a name you can set your watch to) who is rich, aging, and has dragged this tiny household to a mansion in the Caribbean. There’s his younger wife, Margaret Street aka Principal Beauty, who was an backwater beauty queen turned abusive 19 year old mother turned middle aged marshmallow. Then there’s the two live-in servants, Ondine and Sydney Childs, who are about the same age as the Streets (respectively) and, presumably, have been married for just as long. Then there’s the two “main” characters: Son, who is on the run for jumping ship and a fugitive generally, and Jadine Childs aka Jade, who is is niece of the servants, a super model, very well educated, and supported financially by the Streets. So of course Jade and Son fall in love and then it goes wrong in a very stereotypical way, like with them wailing on each other and such, and then she’s all like, “I’m going back to Paris!” and Son is all like, “I’m going to follow you like a crazy stalker … also I totally killed my first wife.” Yawn.

However! The tension between the two older couples in the novel is absolutely amazing and it’s what I really wanted more of. Sydney, Ondine, Valerian, and Margaret pretty much collide with each other in every possible way and I adore it. The kind of 20 year old baby torturing mystery (which explains why the Street’s son Michael never does return home), with every person’s side of it, how it unravels, and all in quiet places like over dinner … genius! The power shift as Valerian grows old, the inability of the servants to be servants after 30 years in a house that is as much their home as anyone’s … and yes, it IS about race, of course, but when I read it I get so much more out of it about older couples and age generally (not to mention class!), which are two things you don’t usually get the depth of in a novel because they just don’t grab people the way two young people running away and beating the life of out of each other do … so that’s what the novel is “about” instead. Not that it’s bad, in fact the main plot was holding my interest until it descended into a sort of … what was that show? “Green Acres,” but with domestic violence … if that makes any sense … which it probably doesn’t.

Oh, and the Champion Daisy, I could have read about them for another chapter alone, Morrison’s knack for personification never ceases to amaze me. And thus I conclude my rambling thoughts on my first read through Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby, please feel free to disregard everything I just said … thank you.

2 thoughts on “Tar Baby by Toni Morrison

  1. Haha, I love your reviews! Way better than Cliffs Notes. By the way, thanks for turning me on to Ms. Morrison all those years ago! Love her!

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