By Love Possessed


With this highly praised collection of short fiction, Lorna Goodison demonstrates why she may be one of literature's best-kept secrets. In the Pushcart Prize-winning title story, humble Dottie thinks her luck has turned when she meets Frenchie, the best-looking, if not most reliable, man in the whole of Jamaica. In "The Helpweight," an accomplished woman must bear the burden of an old flame's renewed affections when he returns from a life abroad with his Irish bride in tow. And in "Henry," a young boy turned out ...

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By Love Possessed

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With this highly praised collection of short fiction, Lorna Goodison demonstrates why she may be one of literature's best-kept secrets. In the Pushcart Prize-winning title story, humble Dottie thinks her luck has turned when she meets Frenchie, the best-looking, if not most reliable, man in the whole of Jamaica. In "The Helpweight," an accomplished woman must bear the burden of an old flame's renewed affections when he returns from a life abroad with his Irish bride in tow. And in "Henry," a young boy turned out of his house to make way for his mother's lover sells roses on the street to survive. On a whim, he bites off a bloom, which he can feel burning inside his mouth like a red pepper light, hoping it will take root and beautify his own life. Poetically rendered, these and over a dozen other evocative stories create a world in which pride can nourish a soul or be its ruin and where people are in turn uplifted and undone by love.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
Goodison's charming stories are populated by Jamaicans of all social classes…she combines her ear for the island's dialect with an eye for its natural and human landscapes.
—Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow
Publishers Weekly
Love, pride, loneliness, and poverty are set to the rhythms of Jamaican life in 22 short stories by acclaimed poet and writer Goodison (From Harvey River, a memoir). In “Bella Makes Life,” Joseph doesn’t know what to make of his wife, Bella, who returns from Brooklyn dressed like a Checker cab and newly obsessed with making money; she’s tired of “box feeding outta hog mouth”—the lowest level of existence. An ex-Communist prisoner uses breathing exercises learned from a fallen comrade to get through each day, in “For My Comrades Wearing Three-Piece Suits.” Anna, in “Mi Amiga Gran,” wonders if she’ll become a “worthless, bruk-down skettel,” living on the street if her mother fails to send the rent money from America. Sylvie, seven months pregnant, questions the ethics of attending church to receive food and clothing she desperately needs, in “God’s Help.” Wonderfully colorful Jamaican patois is interspersed throughout, reflecting subtle changes of class and origin in each character’s voice. Stories of love are overly precious and lack the frank sincerity that Goodison exhibits when writing about poverty, despair, and the illusions we create that can become our salvation—or our demise. Agent: Ron Eckel, the Cooke Agency International. (June)
“A matchless mosaic portrait. . . . A perfect complement to her evocative, widely admired memoir. . . . The voices come vividly off the page. . . . [Goodison] taps deeply into universal experience and offers up these lives with brutal honesty and poignant humanism.”
“Every tale . . . introduces characters that will sustain your interest far more than novels with twice the length and none of the panache of Goodison’s sparkling prose.”
“Alternating between flat-out humor, aching pain, and the confusion of bridging cultures, [these] stories weave around one another in a rhythmic, engaging palette of language and characters sure to remain with the reader.”
“A matchless mosaic portrait. . . . A perfect complement to her evocative, widely admired memoir. . . . The voices come vividly off the page. . . . [Goodison] taps deeply into universal experience and offers up these lives with brutal honesty and poignant humanism.”
Daily Beast
“Goodison deals with the physical world and the words flung between her powerful characters—she’s scoring a dance. . . . It’s an addictive game to play, paying attention to the silences in the songs.”
Danielle Evans
“A beautifully written and evocative book. . . . Goodison finds a glittering and urgent beauty in the everyday, without shying away from a frank confrontation of those moments when the everyday is shattered by trauma.”
Elizabeth Nunez
“Few writers are as attuned as Goodison to the heartaches and triumphs of Jamaicans, especially Jamaican women. . . . Fewer writers still tell us so much about what it means to be human.”
Uwem Akpan
“How Lorna Goodison manages to capture so much about human complexities in these stories is baffling. I just love this book.”
Library Journal
Author of the critically acclaimed memoir From Harvey River, a Washington Post Book World Best Book of the Year, Goodison has also won the Commonwealth Prize and the Musgrave Gold Medal from the Institute of Jamaica. Her latest work is a collection of interwoven stories about people living in a tight-knit Jamaican town. Goodison opens with "The Helpweight," a strong yet predictable story of unrequited love, then gains momentum and intensity as she tells the story of Henry, a homeless rose seller, and Shilling, a teen who falls in love with a dreamy boy only to have her love shattered. Most intriguing is the title story, which concerns Dottie, a woman so desperately in love that she wills herself to be ignorant about the truth of her relationship with a beautiful man. The collection deals with universal aspects of love but also celebrates Jamaican culture. VERDICT Similar to Jabari Asim's A Taste of Honey, this captivating and poetic collection will appeal to readers of Caribbean and literary fiction.—Ashanti L. White, Fayetteville, NC
Kirkus Reviews
Betrayal is the emotional cornerstone of this collection of Jamaican-set stories by poet and memoirist Goodison (English/Univ. of Michigan, From Harvey River, 2008, etc.). Each of these 22 stories--most previously published in U.K. and Jamaican collections--is marked by the lyrical patois of Goodison's characters, who generally hail from the country's lower-middle classes. Her graceful language, however, too often serves moralizing plots. In "House Colour," for instance, a young woman rebuffs a wealthy suitor who's too dim to realize his money doesn't impress her; lovely lines about her "looking around for some spare love lying accidentally somewhere, a kiss left languidly on a smooth surface" are negated with wooden dialogue in which the man boasts he'll "lay siege to your life till you surrender…to me." Well-worn conflicts abound: In "God's Help," a woman rejects a church's charity after she detects a preacher's insincerity; in "Bella Makes Life," a man is at a loss to adjust to his wife's new high standards after she returns from a U.S. trip; in "The Big Shot," a prideful man tries to cover up his affair with a woman he sees as below his station, before receiving his inevitable comeuppance. Those stories come from a 1990 collection; those drawn from a 2005 book showcase more sophisticated conflicts and moral ambiguity. For instance, "Alice and the Dancing Angel" adds a dose of magical realism to the story of a dancer desperate to escape her life's degradations, and "Mi Amiga Gran" follows a young girl's growing self-awareness as her mother's financial support disappears. "I Come Through," told in the form of a famous singer recalling her life story for a reporter, ingeniously caps the collection. It's unfortunate that so many thin tales precede it. Goodison knows the emotional space she wants her stories to occupy, but most are too brief and simplistic to generate much feeling.
From the Publisher
A Globe and Mail Best Book

"Goodison is one of the best writers -- Canadian, Jamaican or otherwise -- you've probably never heard of. This should change with the publication of By Love Possessed, a virtuosic collection of short stories that...will likely stand among the best books released in 2011."
— National Post

"Halfway through Goodison's stunning collection, By Love Possessed, I realized I was holding my breath. . . .Goodison's alchemy of standard and Jamaican English locates us deep within the consciousness of her people. "
— Donna Bailey Nurse, Globe and Mail

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062127358
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/29/2012
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 262
  • Sales rank: 1,555,841
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Lorna Goodison is an internationally recognized poet who has published eight books of poetry and two collections of short stories. In 1999 she received the Musgrave Gold Medal from Jamaica, and her work has been widely translated and anthologized in major collections of contemporary poetry. Born in Jamaica, Goodison now teaches at the University of Michigan. She divides her time between Ann Arbor and Toronto.

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Read an Excerpt

The Helpweight

A gorgeous landscape by George Rodney is on display in the foyer outside the main dining room. She stops and carefully admires it for at least four minutes before making her way over to where he is sitting by himself at, she could not believe his nerve, their old table. Their old table in the corner where the lavender blossoms of a lignum vitae tree created their own painting framed by the mahogany trim of the window.

He is much heavier now and his 1960s afro is gone, taking with it an inch or two of his hairline. Their friends at Excelsior High School who used to call him King Quarter Past Midnight would no doubt notice that English winters have rendered him at least a shade lighter. Gone is the blue- black sheen, but his profile still looks like it could have been stamped on a coin, with those hooded eyes and what their History teacher once described as his Augustan nose. “Ah, Mr. Nathan Aiken, he of the Augustan – that is, large – nose, who is staring out the window even as I speak.”
It is now an older Nathan who is sitting there in the Hummingbird Restaurant, staring out the window. His navy-blue suit worn with a blue- white shirt and striped tie is no doubt the suit from Savile Row he always said he would have built by a bespoke tailor when he was called to the bar. But she looked good too, considering.

“Hail Queen, live forever. Live forever, O my Queen.  I, your lowly subject, have taken the liberty of ordering your special gin and tonic – mostly tonic with a teaspoon of gin. I’m really proud of myself for remembering that. Your Majesty, your shrimp cocktail starter and curried lobster main course await you. Is your long- lost consort good or what?”

She calmly addresses the waiter:

“A campari and soda please, and I’d like to have a look at the menu.”

“But . . .”

For the first time since she sat down at the table she stares him fully in the face. He looks sheepish and embarrassed at her blunt refusal to enter into their old game, and then right there in the presence of the waiter she says:

“Nathan, you are a dog, and having said that, please, please don’t bother with the walk down memory lane because you will definitely be walking alone. I’m only here for the free lunch and to stop you from pestering me on the telephone.  When you came back to Jamaica, you called and said you were asking me for just one favour, so I gave you the name of my real estate agent and she found you your four-bedroom Hillview townhouse. What more, in the name of Jesus, could you want from me now?”

“Don’t start beating me up yet. At least wait till you’ve ordered.”

“So what about the two swims cocktail, sir?”

“Just bring them. I’ll eat them.”

The waiter, who looks a little like Cyril, the stupid busboy from the play Smile Orange, saunters off in the direction of the kitchen. They sit in silence until the Cyril lookalike returns bearing two wide-lipped cocktail glasses each with six limp shrimps hooked over the rims.  “Your swims cocktail, sir.” He places them in the centre of the table.
The damp pink shrimps look as if they are clinging for dear life to the rim of the glasses, which are stuffed with icy lettuce.

“I’ll have the smoked marlin for my appetizer, and then the steamed red snapper, thank you.”

He tells the waiter to cancel the order of curried lobster.

“I know, I made my bed, so I’m the one who has to lie in it.  Freudian slip, right? Don’t laugh, please, you are the one woman, the one woman in the world, I’ve ever loved, and trust me, that is never going to change. The human equivalent of the cockroach, that’s me, maybe even the drummer roach, but I just can’t see the two of us living in Jamaica and not speaking to each other. Remember our song? ‘Friends and Lovers Forever’?”

She kisses her teeth.

“I never intended to marry anybody but you! I know you don’t want to hear this, but only God knows how.”

“If this is what you called me here to tell me, I am leaving right now!”

“No, please, just hear me out, there is not a day that I don’t find a reason to mention your name to somebody. A few hours ago I told a lawyer who just got back from Egypt that I was going to have lunch with this fabulous woman who looks like an Egyptian queen.”

“Nathan, to tell you the truth, our story? That is history.  Call it water under Flat Bridge if you want, so let’s cut out the rubbish. What did you really call me here for?”

“I want you to be friends with my wife, Deidra. She has no friends in Jamaica. Please take her shopping for me.”

Back at her office she calls her sister and tells her what just happened.
“So what did you tell him?”
“To kiss my royal arse.”

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2013

    A feel good family saga

    I thoroughly enjoyed this family saga (based in true events)...felt like I was in Jamaica with theHarvey girls.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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