Picks and Pans Review: Tar Baby

updated 04/27/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/27/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Toni Morrison

In Song of Solomon, Morrison's characters seemed rooted in earthy reality. In this new novel, she uses exotics—a millionaire on a tropical island, a gorgeous model named Jadine and a street-smart American black called Son. Some fascinating things happen, but a poetic dreaminess wafts through the book. Too many passages read as if Truman Capote had his pudgy little hand in the writing: "The emperor butterflies flew in the window, but they were not invited, nor were the bees. They were roused by the six-part singing of the tin-tin birds sitting in formation at the top of the bougainvillea." At best, Tar Baby seems an energetic experiment in trying to join disparate worlds. Jadine tells Son, "There is nothing any of us can do about the past but make our own lives better, that's all I've been trying to help you do. That is the only revenge." George Herbert, the British poet, said something too close to that in the 17th century. (Knopf, $11.95)

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