Book Review: Tar Baby

Tar-Baby-by-Toni-MorrisonRead for: FABClub read Beloved for our Classics series this year, but I’d already read it so I read this instead

Rating: 2/5


I’m not about to write a review slamming the work of NOBEL PRIZE WINNER Toni Morrison. I swear. But this book and I just didn’t go the distance. The actual writing was lovely, and the themes were quite obviously very important (rich vs poor, black vs white, academia vs street smarts, etc)… I just couldn’t get past the complete absurdity of the plot. The book begins with Jadine, a beautiful Black fashion model and niece to the domestic help employed by the white and excessively wealthy Street family. She has been supported by Valerian Street from a young age, he having paid for her education at the Sorbonne and in general providing a comfortable existence for her as she matures. The result of this being her creation into what could be described as a by-product of white culture. She even has a white boyfriend living back in Paris. The Streets and Jade all sit down to a family dinner at their Caribbean vacation home for Christmas, and shortly thereafter Valerian’s wife Margaret discovers a man hiding in her closet. So far so good, right? Well, instead of having the intruder arrested for hiding in his wife’s belongings or lurking around their home for days including, we later learn, watching Jadine while she slept, Valerian invites the man to sit down to dinner! The man, Black, dread locked and undereducated, is then basically asked to stay in a guest room, is allowed to use some pajamas and the fancy bathroom facilities, and is treated NOT like a creepy creepo that just spied on the family for days but rather like a regular visitor. If that weren’t implausible enough, Jadine and Son then FALL IN LOVE. This is unfolded to the reader through just a few very unlikely conversations. Firstly, Jadine allows Son into her room where she gladly shows him, a perfect stranger with unknown motives, a recent photo spread of hers in a magazine and answers his questions about how much the jewelry and clothes she was wearing cost. He then basically asks her how many men she slept with to get the photo shoot, which makes Jadine so mad she attacks him and Son ends up overpowering her and pressing his penis against her in a totally gross and predatory way. Jadine starts thinking about how he’s probably a rapist… but he continues to stay in the house and be invited to family meals.

Lea-Michele-Confused-What-Reaction-GifUnlikely conversation number two takes place when Son joins Jade on a picnic at the beach where he then literally admits he killed his last girlfriend in a fit of jealousy and fled the consequences, which is how he ended up washed ashore on the property of the Street family. Jade is UNBELIEVABLY cool about the fact that a murderer/man who sexually assaulted her is staying at her house and has apparently ZERO discomfort over the admission of Son’s prior criminal history. Then he tells her he loves her after knowing her for like 2 days and she is not freaked out by that or anything.

Kourtney-Kardashian-wait-what-GIFThen they are in love and running away to New York together in secret because Jade knows that no one will “understand” or approve of the totally bizzarro union, and this is about where I just couldn’t take it anymore. I’ve looked up the synopsis of the rest and after Son rejects the rat race of New York City the couple move to Eloe, Florida, back to the stomping grounds of Son’s childhood. Jade can’t deal with the lifestyle there, so the couple then break up. Jade runs back to her rich white boyfriend in Paris as Son decides he made a mistake and tries to track her back down. The book ends with him setting off in a boat on a totally serial killer-esque hunt for Jadine. AHHH I can’t. It just seems like such a clumsy way to execute a novel intending to make important statements about race relations. To echo my review from last week tearing Her Fearful Symmetry a new one, it’s just not plausible enough to be enjoyable. The wackiness is distracting and also sooo super disturbing. This scenario would happen like nowhere EVER and I can’t suspend my belief enough to hear out the message. I so wanted to like it!! Sigh.

One comment

  1. […] 16. 3 works by Women of Colour Mr. Fox – Helen Oyeyemi The Autograph Man – Zadie Smith Behind the Kitchen Door – Sarumathi Jayaraman The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri Midnight Robber – Nalo Hopkinson My Year of Meats – Ruth Ozeki I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou Tar Baby – Toni Morrison […]

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