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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Read This Book

Adam says, "Read this book"...

See Now Then by Jamaica Kincaid

In this brilliant and evocative new novel from Jamaica Kincaid—her first in ten years—a marriage is revealed in all its joys and agonies. This piercing examination of the manifold ways in which the passing of time operates on the human consciousness unfolds gracefully, and Kincaid inhabits each of her characters—a mother, a father, and their two children, living in a small village in New England—as they move, in their own minds, between the present, the past, and the future.

Here's what Adam has to say:

This is less a novel than an exercise in poetic monologue, in Voice and Character--a darkly playful dirge-for-marriage shot through with surprising laugh-aloud gallows humor; an engine burning the dense and dangerous fuel of bitterness; a book only for the very brave and the unhurried, for those willing to take a careful Orphic expedition through an unsettling landscape where, perhaps, nothing at all may be rescued.

In short, a middle-aged Jewish couple and their daughter and son find the family dissolving, the marriage ending, and we see it all through the eyes of the Caribbean, immigrant, writer-wife, in her abandonment.  In one sense, the novel's theme is marriage as culture shock. In another sense, as the title suggests, Kincaid's story centers around the way in which perception may become an exhausting contest between memory, the past, and the-moment-now (and woe to those who lose the battle, those who are punished with ego-incarceration, with the hell of self-torment).

With its fetish for voice, its complete rejection of plot in favor of rarefied stream-of-consciousness or phenomenological narrative, this is the sort of post-modern novel that makes you a little worried serious literature really is going the way of much contemporary poetry, very elite-minded and marginally accessible--yes, and yet it's also such a damned good read, if you have the patience, if you will not (as I was tempted to) overreact and shout: pretension! Be warned, this isn't a book you can read through with good speed, at your normal clip; the book demands that you allow it alone to call all the shots.

Kincaid has produced, here, exactly the kind of novel other writers fear to read, one with so strong a voice that it threatens to influence one's own style in an un-asked-for manner.

In the end, what is it that “See Now Then” leaves us with? Maybe just this. There are many literary references to Greek mythology, and the narrator's abandonment--as it hits home in the final section, left physically by her husband, left emotionally by her children--conveys just how awful a thing it is to be a god in whom no one any longer has faith, a deity who has lost all her worshipers. On a final, practical note: I recommend springing the extra six bucks and buying the audio book on CD, which gives you the unforgettable experience of hearing Kincaid read this work.

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