Personal tragedy puts a Jamaican child-care provider on the road to ruin—in a contrived, sometimes overwrought, and jazzily accented debut.
Indigo Rosemartin’s young daughter Louisa is killed by a hit-and-run driver back in Kingston, while Indigo is in the States trying to earn money to send home. Indigo’s grief, compounded by her guilt at having left the fatherless girl home while she works for a professor’s family in suburban Chicago, hardens her heart against the three American girls of various ages she tends house for daily—as well as against the friends who care about and live around her, and the male admirers she refuses to give the time of day. The girls, Clair, Jill, and Julie Silver, are growing up without their own mother, a kind of dopey, unstable hypochondriac who calls regularly to threaten custody proceedings and terrorize her daughters. Professor Silver, a 50ish bookworm who studies generations of refugees, especially Jews who suffered in death camps, rarely looks up from his all-consuming work to gauge the goings-on in the household. Gradually, Indigo begins to frequent a gambling house run by the infamous charmer Brother Man, a ruthless criminal and thug who enjoys getting rough with the ladies who fall in his debt—and Indigo has lost her head to roulette. Miller’s Jamaican characters ring proud and true and speak in a sing-song patois that seems almost too musically delightful to possess the pain of suffering from homesickness, poverty, or spiritual impoverishment. Indigo has to make her way “back to caring”—for friends, for the sweet girls in her care, who depend on her, and for an acceptable life for herself. While her journey is affecting, it’s also rather unsurprising and platitudinous: the author isn’t prepared to get rough enough herself to create a viscerally convincing tale.
Still, despite occasional clunkiness, Miller’s vernacular style is altogether winning in a story that seriously tries to examine the depression of foreign caregivers.