AT THE BOTTOM OF THE RIVER by Jamaica Kincaid

AT THE BOTTOM OF THE RIVER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

These ten short pieces, some of which have appeared in The New Yorker, suffer from being grouped together in book form here: there's a blurry monotony in Kincaid's prose-poem style (lists, litanies, fragments) and a limited range of imagery in her existential monologues. Still, her first collection is flecked with individuality and talent--especially in the more ironic sequences. ""Girl"" is a three-page list of remembered instructions from a Caribbean childhood. (""Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap; . . . always eat your food in such a way that it won't turn someone else's stomach; on Sundays always try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming."") Several sketches deal with the narrator's fragmented, abstracted images of a beloved, overpowering mother, one who can even appear in dreamlike exaggeration (""Sometimes I cannot see from her breasts on up, so lost is she in the atmosphere""); and this passionate, ambivalent relationship is also linked, implicitly, to the narrator's childhood ambitions, her future roles as lover and mother. (""I shall grow up to be a tall, graceful, and altogether beautiful woman, and I shall impose on large numbers of people my will and also, for my own amusement, great pain. . . Now I am a girl, but one day I will marry a woman. . . ."") Far less distinctive, however, are Kincaid's adult-voiced meditations on existence, death, identity--with a few passages that read (unintentionally) like Woody Allen parodies of philosophy, and with the most familiar sort of inspirational/poetic grapplings: ""In the light of the lamp, I see some books, I see a chair, I see a table, I see a pen; I see a bowl of ripe fruit, a bottle of milk, a flute made of wood, the clothes that I will wear. And as I see these things in the light of the lamp, all perishable and transient, how bound up I know I am to all that is human endeavor, to all that is past and to all that shall be. . . ."" When least abstract, when least derivative (Gertrude Stein and Beckett are only two of the heavy shadows here), Kincaid shows vivid promise in this slim (80 pp.) debut; too often, unfortunately, her Caribbean/literary musings seem precious and repetitive.

Pub Date: Dec. 5th, 1983
ISBN: 0374527342
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux