going on vacation = getting ahead in my reading but behind in my reviewing, so i’m going to review this as a whole instead of writing a mini-review for each story. please do not riot in the streets over my decision.
this is an impressive first showing. many young authors debuting with short story collections try to do too much, throwing every writer’s workshoppy trick of voice, genre, etc. they have into the pot to see what works, and it usually makes for an uneven collection. How to Love a Jamaican, on the other hand, is steady and confident. arthurs knows her voice, her style and her theme, and she doesn’t rely on fanfare to hold the reader’s attention.
these stories are best described as “nostalgic realism” and their most common unifying theme is “the jamaican immigrant experience.” she explores this central theme in a number of ways, but many of the stories feature a looking-back or a juxtaposition of some sort; comparing life/experiences between youth and adulthood, between one’s native and adopted cultures, between the older and younger generations. there’s an especial emphasis on motherhood, race, assimilation, sexuality (both teen pregnancy and homosexuality), value systems (etiquette, morality, social expectations), on returning to the motherland, or experiencing the ancestral homeland for the first time.
one of my favorites was the last (and longest) story, Shirley From a Small Place, which reminded me of zadie smith’s Swing Time, all fame and choices that disappoint the people back home, the people who knew you when (particularly mothers, right?) and how success changes a person, isolates them from what they once were and what they once thought they wanted out of life and all the public-facing glamour and private self-loathing that comes with the territory.
it’s a strong entrée into the short story pool, with enough connective echoes linking the stories that i hope to see a novel from her in the future, just ‘cuz i like novels more than short stories. however, if the short story is her tru luv 4-eva, i’ll gladly read a second collection, which is not something i have said about many authors.
review to come. too busy vacationing…
TABLE OF CONTENTS
LIGHT-SKINNED GIRLS AND KELLY ROWLANDS
MASH UP LOVE
THE GHOST OF JIA YI
HOW TO LOVE A JAMAICAN
WE EAT OUR DAUGHTERS
SHIRLEY FROM A SMALL PLACE