Hopkinson (The Salt Roads, 2003, etc.) sets her latest in the fictional Caribbean nation of Cayaba.
As the story opens, narrator Calamity Lambkin is attending her father’s funeral. Fifty-some years old, she is feeling the first effects of menopause, which in her case include a psychic ability to find lost things. We meet her daughter Ife, who is disturbed whenever unconventional Calamity swears or expresses unenlightened opinions, and her grandson Stanley. Calamity goes home from the cemetery with a stranger, has “funeral sex” with him and then gets roaring drunk on her father’s homemade liquor. Waking up on the beach with a crushing hangover the next morning, she finds a small child in the sand, nearly drowned. She takes him in, calls him Agway and attempts to discover his origins. Noting certain physical peculiarities suggestive of aquatic adaptations, Calamity begins to think that her foundling is one of the merpeople of island lore. Meanwhile, objects from her past keep reappearing, timed with hot flashes: her childhood toys and books, a bloody machete, even the cashew grove her father planted on another island. In addition to these fantastical elements, we are introduced to Caribbean customs and politics (dominated by tourism and the influence of multinationals), and we learn of the day-to-day experiences of people negotiating tradition and modernity. We meet characters from several strata of society, including a visiting marine biologist and the neighbor who looks after Agway while Calamity goes to her job on the main island. Flashbacks offer glimpses of Calamity’s youth, and a historical narrative from slave-trading days lays the foundation for the contemporary story.
A winningly told tale filled with regional color.