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Tar Baby Paperback – June 8, 2004


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More from Toni Morrison
Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison is considered one of America's finest novelists for her profound and provocative works of fiction. Visit Amazon's Toni Morrison Page.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (June 8, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400033446
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400033447
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,917 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Deeply perceptive. . . . Return[s] risk and mischief to the contemporary American novel.” —John Irving, The New York Times Book Review

“Toni Morrison has made herself into the D. H. Lawrence of the black psyche, transforming individuals into forces, idiosyncrasy into inevitability.” —New York

“Arresting images, fierce intelligence, poetic language . . . One becomes entranced by Toni Morrison’s story.” —The Washington Post

“Wrenchingly good. A terrific book.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Hypnotic, stunningly alive.” —The San Diego Union-Tribune

“That rare commodity, a truly public novel. . . . Morrison’s genius lies in her uncanny ability to immerse you totally in the world she creates.” —Newsweek

“Powerful. . . . A stunning performance. . . . Morrison is one of the most exciting living American writers.” —Kansas City Star

“It takes one to the sheer edge of human relationships.” —Vogue

“Wise, beautiful, astonishing, absolutely breathtaking.” —St. Louis Globe-Democrat

“Reminds us again that Toni Morrison is one of the finest writers in America today.” —Louisville Courier-Journal

Tar Baby is stupendous. Morrison is a writer of amazing skill.” —Roanoke Times & World

“Its scope is grand and the interplay complex. But Morrison has the control of a skilled choreographer, with a careful eye pinned on pacing, suspense, grace, and frenzy. . . . She has an awesome lyric flair.” —The Charlotte Observer

From the Inside Flap

The author of Song of Solomon now sets her extraordinary novelistic powers on a striking new course. Tar Baby, audacious and hypnotic, is masterful in its mingling of tones--of longing and alarm, of urbanity and a primal, mythic force in which the landscape itself becomes animate, alive with a wild, dark complicity in the fates of the people whose drama unfolds. It is a novel suffused with a tense and passionate inquiry, revealing a whole spectrum of emotions underlying the relationships between black men and women, white men and women, and black and white people.

The place is a Caribbean island. In their mansion overlooking the sea, the cultivated millionaire Valerian Street, now retired, and his pretty, younger wife, Margaret, go through rituals of living, as if in a trance. It is the black servant couple, who have been with the Streets for years--the fastidious butler, Sydney, and his strong yet remote wife--who have arranged every detail of existence to create a surface calm broken only by sudden bursts of verbal sparring between Valerian and his wife. And there is a visitor among them--a beautiful young black woman, Jadine, who is not only the servant's dazzling niece, but the protegée and friend of the Streets themselves; Jadine, who has been educated at the Sorbonne at Valerian's expense and is home now for a respite from her Paris world of fashion, film and art.

Through a season of untroubled ease, the lives of these five move with a ritualized grace until, one night, a ragged, starving black American street man breaks into the house. And, in a single moment, with Valerian's perverse decision not to call for help but instead to invite the man to sit with them and eat, everything changes. Valerian moves toward a larger abdication. Margaret's delicate and enduring deception is shattered. The butler and his wife are forced into acknowledging their illusions. And Jadine, who at first is repelled by the intruder, finds herself moving inexorably toward him--he calls himself Son;  he is a kind of black man she has dreaded since childhood; uneducated, violent, contemptuous of her privilege.

As Jadine and Son come together in the loving collision they have both welcomed and feared, the novel moves outward--to the Florida backwater town Son was raised in, fled from, yet cherishes; to her sleek New York; then back to the island people and their protective and entangling legends. As the lovers strive to hold and understand each other, as they experience the awful weight of  the separate worlds that have formed them--she perceiving his vision of reality and of love as inimical to her freedom, he perceiving her as the classic lure, the tar baby set out to entrap him--all the mysterious elements, all the highly charged threads of the story converge. Everything that is at risk is made clear: how the conflicts and dramas wrought by social and cultural circumstances must ultimately be played out in the realm of the heart.

Once again, Toni Morrison has given us a novel of daring, fascination, and power.


From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

88 of 94 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 22, 1999
Format: Paperback
One of the things that's often hard in reading other readers' responses to an author that you absolutely adore (and I am an avid Morrison fan) is preparing for the types of reviews that often try to invalidate her or dismiss her because her writing demands so much from us. Yet, I believe her Nobel prize speaks for itself (even for all those who were "forced" into reading her for a class or seminar -or even because Oprah said so), so when others "trash" her, my disgust is not in their inability to appreciate her but in a recurring trend that continues to prove that our mass-media, TV-dominated culture has produced a generation of readers (and I use the term loosely) who no longer appreciate reading a book for the sheer pleasure of how the written language comes together and how an author like Morrison blends both oral culture and myths with written text.
And, folks, you really need that appreciation if you're going to get into a novel like Tar Baby. I believe some very basic knowledge needs to be in place. A) Some knowledge of the African American folktale of the tar baby and Brer Rabbit B.) Some knowledge of the biblical story of Adam and Eve and how religious doctrine has traditionally interpreted it. C.) Some understanding of the "trickster" (and this novel is filled with this figure) tradition in both American and African lore--who is tricked, who's doing the tricking and what is the overall "trick": colonialism? male-female relations? race relations?
I believe that once we recover much of the traditions that someone like Morrison has been exposed to (from the Bible to the blues to Faulkner to Zora Neale Hurston), her novels can be read with some appreciation and respect. . . and love.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Mazza HALL OF FAME on February 8, 2001
Format: Paperback
"Tar Baby" may not be the most celebrated of Toni Morrison's many memorable novels, but, in my opinion, it's the most fun. Much of the story takes place at the Caribbean mansion of white millionaire Valerian Street. Morrison weaves a deliciously nasty psychodrama involving Street, his flaky wife, the Street's black servants, and Jadine, a young black woman who is niece to the servants and who has been educated thanks to Valerian's money. Into this mix Morrison tosses Son, a dreadlocked black man with a dangerous edge.
"Tar Baby" is a frequently outrageous satire of racial identity, sexual politics, consumer culture, class consciousness, and family dysfunctionality. Her cast of characters is colorfully warped in an almost Dickensian manner. Particularly interesting is the portrait of Jadine, the black wunderkind beloved by her wealthy white patrons; I think of her as a whorish postmodern parody of early African-American poet Phillis Wheatley.
As always, Morrison's writing is marked by passages of poetic power and grace. Check out, for example, this marvelous description of Son's hair: "Wild, aggressive, vicious hair that needed to be put in jail. Uncivilized, reform-school hair. Mau Mau, Attica, chain gang hair."
Ultimately, I read "Tar Baby" as a comic tragedy of people trapped in a complex web of racial, sexual, and economic mythologies. Profane, thought-provoking, ironic, and rich in scathing humor, this novel is ample proof of Toni Morrison's writerly talent.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jenny J.J.I. VINE VOICE on June 3, 2006
Format: Paperback
Each time I read this novel I appreciate it even more. The characters are carefully drawn, unveiling their idiosyncrasies layer by layer. Valerian's retreat into the greenhouse where he must learn how to get plants to bloom and ants to walk the other way is both amusing and pathetic. What I have found particularly enjoyable is Morrison's use of symbolism. The woman in the yellow dress, the tar pit, etc. all weave together to form a powerful novel. Perhaps not quite as arresting as "Beloved," "Tar Baby" certainly deserves high marks.

"Tar Baby" is among Morrison's best, and near the top of my list of American literature. Morrison's prose is angry here; perhaps that is why so many had a difficult time with this novel. I admit I do not agree with the racial philosophy of this book. The idea of a Black woman "selling out" is preposterous to me. But this does not lessen the impact of the statement, nor does it illegitimate the novel, allowing a reader to dismiss it as bigoted, or separatist. Rather, it exposes one to another point of view which, while disturbing, is nonetheless thought-provoking. Funny, but I always likened her writing style to Hemingway. Distinctly her own. While it is seldom easy to read a book of hers, she is an adept master of language, and crafts sentences filled with emotion and beauty.

It is too easy to say this book creates boundaries and contrasts- Black/White, Strong/Weak, Good/Bad. However, the point of the novel is identity. Toni Morrison's examination of this topic is, in my opinion, wonderful, and captivated me throughout.

The book may not be an easy read but it's also not a newspaper. Just like anything in life, what is worthwhile takes focus and time.
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