Friday, August 22, 2008

"Annie John" by Jamaica Kincaid

I took the oblique way around to this book. I'd read, and enjoyed, A Small Place in undergrad. Then in grad school we read the galleys for Mr Potter, and I felt taken advantage of as a reader. The endless repetition felt like an assault, and I am far too assertive a woman to stick around and take such abuse.

When I saw Ms. Kincaid speak at Skidmore last year, I thought I needed to try her work again. It took me thirteen months to do it.

Like riding a bicycle, the frustration I had with Mr. Potter came right back to me, as familiar as my Specialized Ruby.

This book is a series of interesting vignettes (how I loved the visual image of an obeah working to heal Annie!) that aren't a story. It's no secret that Ms. Kincaid's work draws largely on her life, and Annie John reads like notes for what could be a damn good story. But there is no meaning in the string of these events, and there is no arc.

The protagonist, Annie, has a turbulent relationship with her mother. But the ups and downs do not have reasons or motives: mother and daughter are either upset with each other or not, and that's all the narrative will give you.

Then there is the perplexing way in which Annie's close friendship with a girl is (or rather, is not) dealt with. Readers are led to believe the girls have a romantic relationship, but nothing is ever said about lesbianism. And then, inexplicably, the girlfriend, is abruptly out of the picture, Annie having simply outgrown her.

In the final chapter, Annie is suddenly boarding a ship for England and education. Nothing is said about this life-changing change in any previous chapter.

"Annie John" relates incidents that happen to a young girl, but does not make sense or give meaning to any of them.

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