Ellis (Till I’m Laid to Rest, 2010, etc.) tells a fast-paced story of father and son, packed with misadventures and set against the backdrop of contemporary Jamaica.
It’s a rough day for Everton: first, his father goes missing and he has a fight with his girlfriend. Then, he needs to handle his volatile family while also making it to an important business meeting. The plot already feels breakneck when Everton finds his father (it happens early) and sets off on a whole new quest: to help reunite the old man with a lost love. Along the way, they have plenty of adventures—including running afoul of a group of marijuana growers who may be toiling on property that belongs to Everton himself. Added to that, Everton’s relationship with his father—a cranky ne’er-do-well who never had much interest in his son—has a long way to go toward reconciliation. No new ground here, plotwise, but Ellis sets his story in 2008 Jamaica, where “old people are burnt in their homes for no reason at all; stubborn old men are slaughtered by gunmen”—where “it is so easy to get away with murder.” This milieu adds a great deal of tension to the book that would be absent if it were to take place in, say, Cleveland, and Ellis is wise to make his plot accessible to attract readers: after all, many will be learning about Jamaica for the first time—a valuable function of this novel. But still, the rhythms are predictable, straight from Screenwriting 101. “I had a devil in me,” Everton tells us at one point about his rowdy past. This novel, though well-constructed, could’ve used a little more devil.
A finely built—and often admirable—novel that, nevertheless, feels too familiar.