On a tropical island paradise, six people interact with each other in all the tender or hateful ways that human beings are capable of. Rich and poor, black and white, young and old, male and female, each has something to teach the others -- and each has something to learn.
This came after [Song of Solomon] and before [Beloved], possibly Morrison's best works, both very ambitious, but in different kinds of ways. [Beloved] took a lot more out of Morrison than any of her previous much more angry books. This one is much more like [Song of Solomon], although not quite as good. But, don't shy away. It's an ambitious work, complicated, angry, unsettling without ever letting that lead you away from the text.
It's not what Morrison says that is unsettling, I mean it's not the stories and their odd and less than appetizing outcomes. Her stories are fun, and the way she mixes in possibly magical characters and actually magical living landscapes just make things a lot more fun. What is unsettling is the meaning behind the stories. It's never clear what she means, but the more you think about the story the more bothered you are likely to be by it. And her endings, they just leave you thinking and thinking.
Anyway, although this took me a bit to get into, I enjoyed it and it's wandering into black history, culture clashes and a very curious relationship between a pair of black servants, who are married, and their white employers who happen to own practically the entire (living) island are staying on. Things get a little more interesting when an black island stowaway is found in a bedroom closet.
I had never listened to an audio book before, so I wasn’t used to having the book read to me, and at the beginning found myself spacing out. But in no time, I learned to love it found listening to it was more convenient that reading the actual book (sometimes). I would often lay on the couch and listen to the book through my computer and would find Lynne’s voice so soothing that I’d be forced to take a nap after thirty minutes (not that that’s a bad thing).
For those of you who don’t know, the book is about a rich, older white couple living on a tropical island in the Caribbean with their longtime servants. The servant’s daughter, a successful model in Paris, comes to spend the winter at the mansion and is included in the family’s drama. The white couple is growing apart in their older-adult age and the wife is left to obsess about their son coming home for Christmas.
A strong African-American man, who we know nothing about, appears at the mansion one day. Everyone but the white homeowner immediately loathes him. He ends up staying at the house, only to cause drama, and be part of everyone else’s.
The story weaves love, race, class, identity, family, hate and obsession all into one.
Toni Morrison does a beautiful job, once again.
The voice of the reader was rather soft, too, which was awkward. She did accents well, but the cadence of her voice was too varied.
Somewhere along the way, much too late I admit, it finally clicked—the rhythm felt right—and I became engaged in the story. I loved the characters and how they were placed on the stage. Valerian in the role of the powerful man who's indifferent to the wants of others, toying with hearts and relationships based on whims. Jadine, the young light-skinned black woman who is seen as a sellout by others—she doesn't act the way she “ought to”—but also is one of the few characters who seems to know who she is. The servants, Ondine and Sydney, Jadine's aunt and uncle, who walk a line between maintaining their strong voices and keeping their jobs. Margaret, Valerian's wife, a white woman who believes herself to be a friend of her black servants merely because she's earned the right by being “civil” with them. And Son, the stranger who arrives and throws all their pretentious role playing into disarray. He is a resilient, strong-willed man who may give one fuck, but never two.
Once it clicked, I enjoyed the story and the direction it was going. Everyone had something they wanted, yet it was often their own self in the way. The longer everyone struggled with themselves, the more the tension with one another built. Midway, the atmosphere is quite explosive. And I most certainly loved the language, a talent Morrison always has on display even when the characters or story don't follow. Morrison is a wordsmith, a weaver of phrases, a poet masquerading as a novelist.
Something about the conclusion just didn't work for me, though. Specifically, I'm talking about from the point of Jadine's return (Chapter 10) and on. I found my interests waning. Personally, I don't think it's where I would've taken the story. And somehow, to me, it didn't feel right. I won't go into detail, but I'll just say that despite the wonderfully written prose, I was underwhelmed with the direction of the story in these last thirty pages.
While I've read just over half of Morrison's complete catalog of novels, I stand by my previous assessment of the quality of Morrison's novels pre-Nobel and post-Nobel. While Tar Baby has been my least favorite of the pre-Nobel works, I do like it considerably better than those I've read published after 1993. I'm sure there will be an exception eventually and I'll be outed as the not-so-know-it-all pretentious literary snob that I am, but so far I really do like her earlier works better. With that in mind, Song of Solomon is next, and with that I'll have completed every novel Morrison published in her first twenty years of writing.
Postscript: What was with the phrase “blue-if-it's-a-boy blue”? Why was it repeated so many times? It grew tiresome and I didn't see that it added any significant meaning to the story to be repeated as often as it was. Anyone have any insight on this phrase or know if it holds extra significance I might have missed?