Antoni (My Grandmother’s Erotic Folktales, 2001, etc.) turns a Hemingway classic of early-20th-century angst into a less-than-classic tale of Caribbean aimlessness.
Granted, aimlessness was also ubiquitous in The Sun Also Rises, but as immortalized in Papa’s sand-blasted, paradigm-altering sentences, it became a metaphor for postwar anomie. Antoni’s workmanlike prose is nowhere as exciting, and if his self-indulgent characters have anything to tell us about Caribbean society, it’s not easy to identify during their alcohol- and ganja-soaked sojourn at Carnival on their homeland, an unnamed West Indian island. Narrator William is white, his high-flying writer-buddy Laurence is from a poor black family, and William’s cousin Rachel seems to be Creole, so the author might have illuminated the region’s tangled race relations as Hemingway (unwittingly) did the anti-Semitism of his time. But even though William’s impotence—remember, he’s the Jake Barnes figure—apparently stems from an assault by three Rastas on him and Rachel when they were teenagers, we don’t get any sense of how this connects to the island’s larger social reality. And the carelessness that made Brett Ashley so sexy leads, in Rachel’s case, to the emasculation of the teenaged Carnival King she beds in the sand, a horrifying outcome tossed off in a newspaper account and not commented on by our supposedly sensitive narrator. There’s some decent local color in the vivid descriptions of Carnival, particularly in the flamboyant costumes and dances of the masplayers (the Caribbean dialect, untranslated throughout, is reasonably understandable). But it’s perilous to invite comparisons by opening and closing with lines that mimic Hemingway’s famous ones: “Isn’t it happy to think so?” doesn’t have the bite of “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” and “We are all a lost tribe” lacks the mythic vibe of “You are all a lost generation.” Antoni conveys the flavor of the West Indies and the neuroses of his characters, but he fails to convince us that they mean much of anything.
An okay story, sunk by pretensions.