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Another inveterate yarnspinner dominates this chaotically structured yet frequently entertaining third novel (Blessed Is the Fruit, 1997, etc.) from American-born Antoni, who grew up in the Bahamas.

The place is the village of Chaguarameras on the island of Corpus Christi, and the storyteller is the (unnamed) eponymous Grandmother, a 96-year-old powerhouse who regales her young grandson Johnny with lavish extended tales of her commercial (and, coincidentally, heavily sexual) adventures. Most of them occurred during WWII, when American soldiers were stationed on Corpus Christi, the whorehouse trade thrived, and Grandmother matched wits with two importunate adversaries and admirers: a self-styled "King" (of a traveling carnival) who tried to dupe her into financing the search for a sunken pirate ship laden with treasure, and a white-suited Kentucky "Colonel" who helped her build a fast-food pizza enterprise, then later marketed Grandmother herself—as calypso singer "Lady Lobo." Neither of them is quite what he seems, and there's a similar abundance of unreality in Grandmother's hair-raising stories about a prowling "tiger that liked to eat cheese," a gorgeous seductress who murders and mutilates her lovers, an adopted girl and a "slaveboy" who shape-shift respectively into an iguana and an anaconda (the novel’s best sequence), and even a story set in "the old old time" of Sir Walter Raleigh and the Spanish conquistadors (which Grandmother claims to remember clearly). All this is more than a bit oppressively lush, but this time out Antoni reins in the Caribbean patois, and offers several delicious contrasts between the islanders' uninhibited carnality and American sexual timidity ("where . . . [the U.S. soldiers] came from, it was against the law even to play with yourself before the age of twenty-one").

It's a mess (the concluding episode is especially disjointed and truncated), but Grandmother's sensual energies and fluent loquacity make this Antoni's most accessible and enjoyable fiction nevertheless.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-8021-1687-6
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Grove
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2001


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