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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Sweet Nothings

Posted by on Wed, Apr 3, 2013 at 12:01 PM

(Jamaica Kincaid reads tonight at the Central Library. The reading is free.)

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Jamaica Kincaid's prose used to be complex without being obnoxious and riddled with bitter little poems that could move us, make us feel deeply. But in her newest novel, See Now Then (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $24) the repetition and difficult rhythms that felt intrinsic to her earlier work now seem to have curdled into an obsessive-compulsive rage against writing itself, or against writing's failure to amend the past.

The line between originality and total incomprehensibility needn't be so thin, nor result in sentences like this one: "The young Heracles, growing in youth, not growing older, growing in his youth, becoming more perfectly youthful, his many tasks to perform, performing them more perfectly, at first performing them awkwardly..." First of all, what the hell? And second of all, there is only so much I can swallow in the name of satire. No, you should not read this book if you are looking for beautiful prose, or even just prose that isn't hideous. You should not read this book if you enjoy plots, or skillful editing. And you absolutely shouldn't read it if you want characters that embody anything more than a cruel parody of our worst selves. Kincaid seems to want to grind these obvious assumptions into pulp against our thick skulls: Time is relative, passionate love begets passionate hate, snobbish intellectualism is fun to mock, the deterioration of a marriage is excruciating...


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