Violence and abuse dominate in this part-gripping, part-lackluster collection of seven short stories from first-time author Stanford.
Stanford is from Trinidad and Tobago, but readers hoping to gain insight into Caribbean history and culture from this collection will be disappointed. Instead, they will find lurid scenes of horrific crimes and revenge that–while provocative–tell little of island life. The neighborhoods of Desires easily could be in Anytown, U.S.A., save for a few nuanced signs of island life (tropical breeze, coconut trees) and name-dropping (Port of Spain, Tunapuna). Even the graphic illustrations in each chapter do not help root readers in a place or time. Stanford gives much more attention to exploring universal questions: What is right? What is wrong? What is justice? Each story follows different characters and uses crime as a backdrop to show what happens when an institution–like school, jail or even marriage–fails to protect its citizens from harm. In some stories, like â€œDesire” and â€œA Question of Justice,” above-the-law crusaders tackle the injustice. In others, such as â€œWhen Tears Are Not Enough” and â€œThe Victim,” peace comes only after the victim transcends abuse. Stanford captivates with shocking plot twists and turns, as in â€œThe Letter,” when an abused son repeatedly stabs his father and then commits suicide. But he’s not always so deft, and in many places, pacing is off–he doesn’t know when to show or tell, or if it’s better to reveal nothing at all. In â€œBeyond Suspicion,” a whodunit, Stanford builds dramatic tension only to have it dissipate in one final, empty scene. The ultimate criminal is such a marginal character, and his incentive to murder so preposterous, that it feels anti-climactic. Other stories, like â€œTwo to Tangle,” feel weighted down by too-revealing dialogue that comes off as stale and awkward.
Appealing to the Law & Order addict interested in crime, not narrative.