Showing posts with label Book Review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Book Review. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Don't Read (only) as Autobiography: A Cautionary Review

Review gives Kincaid's book a B-

  " shouldn’t be read as purely autobiographical"

 by Kevin McFarland March 18, 2013 


"See Now Then, Jamaica Kincaid’s first novel since 2002’s Mr. Potter, shouldn’t be read as purely autobiographical. The facts do line up well: Kincaid’s former husband, Allen Shawn (Wallace Shawn’s brother) is a composer; they had two children together, a boy and a girl; they lived in Bennington, Vermont. The novel depicts a crumbling marriage between Mr. and Mrs. Sweet, a composer and a writer, respectively, who live with their son and a daughter in a small New England town. But it isn’t a book about another American divorce. See Now Then elevates marriage difficulty to the level of myth and archetype, to represent a fundamental part of the American story. Unfortunately, Kincaid focuses so much on the style of the lyric novel that it hinders the potential emotional impact."

Here we are allowed to read it autobiographically but not as "pure" autobiography!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Reviewer of Jamaica Kincaid's "See Now Then" Notes External Details Match Up

Time flies, cleverly, in 'See Now Then'

February 24, 2013

Reviewed by Susan Balée (follow link)

"See here, readers: See Now Then, the new novel by Jamaica Kincaid, traces the interior history of a (ticked off) black woman whose heart has been broken by her (once beloved) husband. And although she says otherwise in interviews, it sure looks like Kincaid is the woman and her erstwhile ex-, Allen Shawn (son of famous editor William, brother of actor Wallace), is the heartbreaker.
 All the external details match up: Shawn and Kincaid's life in Bennington, Vt., where he taught musical composition and she composed prose in their house, possibly the house where the horror writer Shirley Jackson once lived, but certainly a haunted place; their daughter and son; his neuroses (Shawn has written a book about anxiety) and short stature, her middle-aged largesse and love of gardening; his ultimately leaving her for a younger woman. Although the main characters in this book are called Mr. and Mrs. Sweet, the Mrs. quotes from her writings and they are recognizably works by Jamaica Kincaid."

Friday, February 22, 2013

Reviewer Asserts Sweets are Fictional Stand"-ins

Chicago Tribune Lifestyles Review:

'See Now Then': Jamaica Kincaid's new symphony

In 'See Now Then,' a once-lyrical marriage disintegrates, leaving nothing but cacophony

February 01, 2013|By Alan Cheuse

"The Sweets, fictional stand-ins for Kincaid and her former husband, live in the (real-life) village of North Bennington, Vt., in a house formerly owned by (real-life) eccentric novelist Shirley Jackson and her (real-life) husband, the brilliant literary critic Stanley Edgar Hyman. Mr. Sweet is a modernist composer, and Mrs. Sweet, born in the Caribbean, is a housewife, mother and lay philosopher when it comes to the large questions of time and language."

Thursday, February 14, 2013

SEE NOW THEN More Reviews

More Reviews IN THE




By Elysa Gardner, USA TODAY
Published: February 13, 2013

Jamaica Kincaid’s ‘See Now Then’ is one quirky read

"Like Kincaid's ex-husband, Allen Shawn, Mr. Sweet is a composer. They live in a small New England town, as Shawn and Kincaid did, and have a son and daughter, as the former couple do. But Kincaid's first book in nearly a decade is not a barely fictionalized memoir, or so the author has insisted. As she recently told a reporter, her real children are not, like the Sweet kids, named Heracles and Persephone, and 'my daughter doesn't disappear underground every six months and emerge in the spring.'

Such coyness is pervasive in See Now Then — though so is bawdy humor and unabashed rage and sorrow. There are passages that are almost unbearably self-pitying, with Kincaid — um, that is, Mrs. Sweet — lamenting her husband's disdain for her Caribbean heritage and no-longer-youthful figure. We learn, too, of the 'turbulence and upheaval' she has endured from childhood on: 'I seemed unable to do anything that pleased anyone and that included me,' she writes toward the end."



The Marriage Has Ended; Revenge Begins

"When Dorothy Parker drank too much, Gore Vidal once reported, she sometimes suffered from what she ruefully called “the frankies”: the inclination to tell people, as if for their own good, what she really thought of them.

There’s something about the men of the Shawn family — William, the longtime editor of The New Yorker, who died in 1992, and now his son, Allen, a composer — that seems to give women the frankies while sober. 

In 1998 Lillian Ross published “Here but Not Here,” a memoir of her 40-year affair with the married William Shawn. She outed this famously private man, while his wife was still living, as an enthusiast for pornography who “longed for the earthiest and wildest kinds of sexual adventures,” among many other things."


Polly Rosenwaike
One can't help thinking that Kincaid's easily Googleable ex-husband will not be pleased by the arrival of "See Now Then." How should the rest of us feel? Exhilarated, grateful - and relieved, perhaps, that Kincaid can't see inside our own heads."

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

See Now Then

Recent Review



 How does Jamaica Kincaid's veiled self-reference influence the reading of her new book, "See Now Then"?

All of this is relevant because Kincaid, the author of more than a dozen books, is a public literary figure. And seen through the lens of some basic but widely known facts of her life, reading "See Now Then" becomes quite a different experience.        

"by the time I reached that last passage, the domestic complications of See Now Then began to lose their entirely magical and allegorical qualities and feel more like the nastiness of a real marriage." His sense of the similarity between the author's life and the artistic work, causes him to conduct some research about her personal life. In his reading, knowing that the family composition and marital disagreement are close or shared with the author interrupts his ability to read the work as art (literary prose) alone. 

In fact he recommends readers who do not know about her life to avoid the details and warns them to stop reading his review because, "you would enjoy it more." The parallels that he points out between the character Mrs. Sweet and the author Kincaid are that she gardens, lives in small town New England, and the family composition are the same, which taken alone are not so significant. For him, the most impacting similarity is that as the husband and wife trade insults, the physical attributes commented upon are similar to those of the author and her ex-husband's physical appearance. He said the resemblances were disconcerting and he began to feel "voyeuristic." Later, the indications about the father's aggressive feelings toward the son and his possessiveness towards the daughter seem to "express a very personal, private hurt." Tobar concludes that the book deserves to be read as fiction, and yet he clearly cannot avoid making connections. He reads it as a veiled  memoir. Certainly, this is a favorable review and yet he concludes:"There are two ways to read Jamaica Kincaid's mesmerizing new novel, See Now Then.The first is the way any work of art should be read: by simply absorbing what's on the page. This is how I read the first two-thirds of See Now Then."

What is important about this review is that even though the reviewer did not know much about Jamaica Kincaid's personal life before reading her novel, he was still influenced by the presence of the autobiographical within her writing.When I heard audio recorded readings of sections of this work, I noted that the audiences laughed at what seemed to be insider jokes; for example, comments that could be about her daughter and son's behavior (but presented in this fiction) has a familiar feeling. For readers who are familiar with the author's previous works, the influence of her autobiography will likely be more forceful.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Jamaica Kincaid's "See Now Then" is Published

Anticipating Reactions to the Autobiographical in Jamaica Kincaid's See Now Then

( Elisabetta A. Villa, Getty Images / February 1, 2013 )
Jamaica Kincaid at Festival Delle Letterature Di Roma 2010

"There are two ways to read Jamaica Kincaid's mesmerizing new novel, See Now Then. The first is the way any work of art should be read: by simply absorbing what's on the page. This is how I read the first two-thirds of See Now Then."

See Now Then
A Novel
Jamaica Kincaid
Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 192 pp., $24

It becomes impossible to avoid the personal life story of Kincaid during his well-intended reading: READ AS ART. 
Tobar who has little knowledge about Kincaid's personal life but he becomes too tempted to verify details and consequently, does some research and reports on the findings. His research changes the reading from simply ART to Art -Influenced-Autobiography and it completely changes the meaning of her work. He writes that "All of this is relevant because Kincaid, the author of more than a dozen books, is a public literary figure. And seen through the lens of some basic but widely known facts of her life, reading "See Now Then" becomes quite a different experience." Similarities about the physical appearance of Mrs. Sweet to Kincaid and Mr. Sweet to her former husband, Allen Shawn begin to create another layer of meaning in the work- it begins to feel "uncomfortably voyeuristic"  as he reads.  I await the arrival of my copy and my own sneak peek  into Jamaica Kincaid's life.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mr Potter is

Mr Potter is silenced: "Bitter Fruit" Maya Jaggi The Guardian UK

The tension between historical understanding and personal animus is never resolved. Writing becomes revenge; telling someone else's story can be a means of silencing them. At its worst, Elaine's voice is vindictive and self-aggrandising. Mordant irony no doubt drives Kincaid's description of the island's people as being of "no account". Yet rather than dignifying the lives of the "no account" people that it describes, this novel seems to bask in the author's godlike power: not so much to give life, as to withhold it. The effect, far from being humane, is sour and self-regarding.

San Francisco Chronicle: My Brother

Meredith Maran

My Brother is not, in fact, about Kincaid’s brother. It’s about life and death. It’s about how economic and emotional poverty corrode the body and the soul. It’s about the sticky tentacles that tie brothers to sisters, mothers to daughters, adults to their childhoods, people to where they come from–no matter how far they stray; no matter how desperately they try to escape.

Most of all, My Brother is about Jamaica Kincaid. Unshrouded, here, by the thin veil of fiction she’s draped around her disclosures in the past, Kincaid emerges naked–with her bold perceptions, and unappealing self-righteousness in evidence.

Anna Quindlen Reviews My Brother

Anna Quindlen, New York Times, writes that Kincaid's style is connected to the way people remember, without direct shape or form.


Now that memoir is the genre du jour, it is fashionable for readers to describe the best of them as being just like novels in their sharp characterizations and larger-than-life life stories. The problem with this observation is that memory is not much like fictional narrative at all. If a novel is a line, more or less, memory is connect-the-dots. Or perhaps even that is too direct, suggesting an order to our thoughts, a clear picture at the end. Memory feels more aimless than that, sometimes gliding, sometimes lurching from past to present, fantasy to reality, place to place.

My Brother; A Book Review

Peter Kurth
Salon favorable book review.

This is the enormous fly in Kincaid's literary ointment -- the fact that her mother remains unmoved, dominant, implacable and right, no matter what Kincaid says or thinks about her. She's on a self-imposed merry-go-round, whirling endlessly over ancient griefs and unhealed wounds, sitting on a battered, paint-peeled pony while her mother rides, permanently ahead of her, on a stately gilded horse. 
At his funeral, when the minister preaches to her about the afterlife, she remarks that "I did not like that at all ... I did not want to be with any of these people in another world. I had had enough of them in this one; they mean everything to me and they mean nothing, and even so, I do not really know what I mean when I say this." Which is why Kincaid keeps writing about them, undoubtedly -- to find out, or find out more. The only question that remains is how much longer she can mine this particular pit.

SALON | Oct. 9, 1997
Peter Kurth is a writer and biographer who lives in Burlington, Vt.