A debut novel about class strife, masculinity, and brotherhood in contemporary Trinidad.
Adam—herself a native of Trinidad—tells the story of Paul and Peter Deyalsingh, twins of Indian descent whose lives rapidly diverge. Paul is socially awkward, a bundle of nervous tics and strange habits, and from a young age he is dubbed unhealthy by his industrious father, Clyde, who works tirelessly doing physical labor at a petroleum plant in order to afford a better life for his children—or, at least, one of them. As he ages, his family becomes convinced that he is "slightly retarded," and he is marked as doomed in comparison to his precociously intelligent brother, Peter—the "healthy" child. After Peter's unexpected success on a standardized test, Clyde and his wife, Joy, single him out as gifted while communicating to Paul that his possibilities are far more limited. Joy works hard to keep her children together—"The boys are twins. They must stay together," she frequently demands—but Peter's intellectual gifts create a chasm between him and Paul. Peter is destined to leave the island, while Paul's horizon never exceeds hard labor, like his father before him. Despite the efforts of Father Kavanagh, a kindly Irish Catholic priest who takes it upon himself to teach Paul, the family is forced to make an irrevocable decision that will determine the boys' fates. Adam excels at sympathetically depicting the world of economic insecurity, unpredictable violence, limited opportunity, and mutual distrust that forces Clyde and Joy to make their fateful decision. Unfortunately, however, the novel telegraphs its biggest plot twist. One can see the narrative gears turning very early, and as a result Clyde's decision isn't harrowing; by the time its necessary consequences unfold, a reader might be less moved than Adam hopes. It doesn't help that many of the characters are sketchily drawn at best. Clyde, Joy, and Peter are not vividly depicted, and the decision that renders Paul disposable seems to emanate out of a psychological vacuum. In the absence of any emotional stakes, the last third of the novel unfolds like a generic thriller. That's unfortunate, as Adam has otherwise written an incisive and loving portrait of contemporary Trinidad. Paul is the most fully realized character: Adam movingly depicts his struggle to break free of his family's conceptions of his abilities. As a result, the novel is most moving when it becomes a heart-rending character study of post-colonial adolescence that recalls V.S. Naipaul and George Lamming.
A fascinating novel that fails to stick its landing.