Betrayal is the emotional cornerstone of this collection of Jamaican-set stories by poet and memoirist Goodison (English/Univ. of Michigan, From Harvey River, 2008, etc.).
Each of these 22 stories—most previously published in U.K. and Jamaican collections—is marked by the lyrical patois of Goodison’s characters, who generally hail from the country’s lower-middle classes. Her graceful language, however, too often serves moralizing plots. In “House Colour,” for instance, a young woman rebuffs a wealthy suitor who’s too dim to realize his money doesn’t impress her; lovely lines about her “looking around for some spare love lying accidentally somewhere, a kiss left languidly on a smooth surface” are negated with wooden dialogue in which the man boasts he’ll “lay siege to your life till you surrender…to me.” Well-worn conflicts abound: In “God’s Help,” a woman rejects a church’s charity after she detects a preacher’s insincerity; in “Bella Makes Life,” a man is at a loss to adjust to his wife’s new high standards after she returns from a U.S. trip; in “The Big Shot,” a prideful man tries to cover up his affair with a woman he sees as below his station, before receiving his inevitable comeuppance. Those stories come from a 1990 collection; those drawn from a 2005 book showcase more sophisticated conflicts and moral ambiguity. For instance, “Alice and the Dancing Angel” adds a dose of magical realism to the story of a dancer desperate to escape her life’s degradations, and “Mi Amiga Gran” follows a young girl’s growing self-awareness as her mother’s financial support disappears. “I Come Through,” told in the form of a famous singer recalling her life story for a reporter, ingeniously caps the collection. It's unfortunate that so many thin tales precede it.
Goodison knows the emotional space she wants her stories to occupy, but most are too brief and simplistic to generate much feeling.