Much to my doom-and-gloom-loving husband’s chagrin, I am generally a happy person. You know what I mean: I have to be dragged to many Oscar-buzz movies, most of which seem to be set in concentration camps or their equivalent. (I prefer the crazy antics of Will Ferrell and anything with the words “hilarity ensues” in the plot description.) You can often find me whistling while I work. I think those “I Haz Cheezburger” cats are cute. Et cetera.
But recently I’ve been looking on the dark side of life… and it’s all Jamaica Kincaid’s fault.
You see, a few weeks ago I decided to get serious about finishing my graduate degree in literature. Which means finishing the thesis I’ve been supposedly working on since early 2007. Which means re-reading Jamaica Kincaid’s brilliant, exquisitely crafted, and MOST RELENTLESSLY DEPRESSING NOVEL EVER WRITTEN, The Autobiography of My Mother.
All you really need to know about it is that the narrator, Xuela Claudette Richardson, is a Carib-Scots-African woman on the island of Antigua, and she is bummed out, to say the least. Her mother is dead, a fact she reminds you of every two or three pages. Her father is a selfish prison guard who farms her out to his laundress (he regards the difference between the “two bundles” – one his child, one his soiled clothes – as minimal). Her stepmother tries to kill her. She engages in a series of sexual but not love affairs with different men, most married. And, oh yeah, she longs for death. Constantly.
Like I said: depressing.
And yet, Kincaid’s prose is so flawlessly beautiful, so ridiculously poetic, it’s hard not to be influenced by the constant drumbeat of “death, despair, no love, no light”. She makes it seem so… well, lovely.
Here is the opening: “My mother died at the moment I was born, and so for my whole life there was nothing standing between myself and eternity; at my back was always a bleak, black wind.”
(If I were in the same position? I’d probably write something like, “Man, my life stinks.” But Kincaid gives us “a bleak, black wind” – lovely, lovely, lovely.)
And the ending:“I long to meet the thing greater than I am, the thing to which I can submit. It is not in a book of history, it is not the work of anyone whose name can pass my own lips. Death is the only reality, for it is the only certainty, inevitable to all things.”
Needless to say, there’s not a lot of happiness, joy, or laughter between the two.
What’s funny is that my initial reaction to Kincaid – me, moping around in black, a one-woman Brigade of Sorrow – has evolved into something else entirely: the desire for mindless entertainment. More than mindless: Benny Hill. Or People magazine. Or that live web-link of the puppies that’s everywhere.
And isn’t there a Will Ferrell movie out now? You know, the one where he plays the guy who is just a little bit outside the mainstream, and he hooks up with other guys, and hilarity ensues? I’m there. My thesis can wait just a little longer, can’t it?