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 their existence to create a surface calm broken only by sudden bursts of verbal sparring between Valerian and his wife.
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, and he is a kind of black man she has dreaded since childhood: uneducated, violent, contemptuous of her privilege.
Once again, Toni Morrison has given us a novel of daring, fascination, and power.
©1981 Toni Morrison (P)2003 Random House, Inc. Random House Audio, a division of Random House, Inc.