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Misery infects the unstudied, slow pace of this island and of Mr. Potter’s days. As Kincaid’s narrative ...
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Misery infects the unstudied, slow pace of this island and of Mr. Potter’s days. As Kincaid’s narrative unfolds in linked vignettes, his story becomes the story of a vital, crippled community. Kincaid strings together a moving picture of Mr. Potter’s ancestors -- beginning with memories of his father, a poor fisherman, and his mother, who committed suicide -- and the outside world that presses in on his life, in the persons of his Lebanese employer and, later, a couple fleeing World War II. Within these surroundings, Mr. Potter struggles to live at ease: to purchase a car, to have girlfriends, to shake off the encumbrance of his daughters -- one of whom will return to Antigua after he dies -- to tell his story with equal measures of distance and sympathy.
In Mr. Potter, her most luminous, ambitious work to date, Kincaid breathes life into a figure unlike any in contemporary fiction, an individual consciousness emerging gloriously out of an unexamined life.
“Kincaid's fiction aims to render the known and the unknowable at the same time. Her stories are built up with layers of repeated sentences and phrases, like waves pounding on the shore, leaving the reader to decipher the whole story the way a geologist might examine exposed strata of rock.” -- The Toronto Star
“It’s a fairy tale told with a biblical flavour…each word, each observation, each page echoes the one before, lulling you into a sense of surrender.” -- The Toronto Star
"Mr. Potter is Kincaid's most poetic and affecting noel to date. Kincaid writes of [Mr. Potter] as though she were speaking her breathless sentences aloud. The result is prose more emotionally charged, more repetitive, more reminiscent of Gertrude Stein than ever before." -- The Washington Post
"By seeking to understand her father and herself, her father's past and her own present, the narrator also struggles to come to terms with the complex and contradictory, at times overwhelming, fact of existence itself. The repetition in the prose, the many-angled viewings and the pauses in narration render the perpetual astonishment of the sensitive observer, as well as the discovery inherent in the process of writing. Even when Kincaid's prose is at its most lyrical, it's never gratuitous." -- Gregory Miller, The San Diego Union-Tribune
"The writing truly soars . . . Kincaid's lyricism ascends into the realm of the sublime, achieving the rhythmic and incantatory effect she's after and replicating a kind of oral storytelling via a written text." -- Andrew Roe, The San Francisco Chronicle
"As with all of Kincaid's novels, Mr. Potter may be read as a parable of colonial history . . . Mr. Potter portrays emotional poverty, reflected in often cruel, always sharp language. Kincaid's storytelling relies on repetition, building on simple phrases to create scene fragments and anecdotes . . . It gives Kincaid's story mythic heft, making Mr. Potter not merely a character, but an archetype." -- Philadelphia Inquirer
"Kincaid is a vibrant and mysterious poetic writer . . . To love in this slim little novel is the rich drumbeat of Kincaid's inimitable prose." -- Orlando Sentinel
"She has always been a superb stylist, but in Mr. Potter, Jamaica Kincaid's prose takes on an exalted, almost biblical tone. The writing soars and sings . . . Kincaid gives us a complex portrait, told in soaring prose, of a powerful man with little in the way of accomplishments and of the poverty-stricken island he never managed to transcend." -- Roger Harris, The Newark Sunday Star-Ledger
"Kincaid, with her gently rhythmic prose, has painted another searing portrait and has done so with typical brilliance . . . In narrating Mr. Potter's 'biography,' Elaine embraces her father, offering to him, to herself, and to the reader the beautiful gift of a life examined." -- Susanna Baird, Boston magazine
"As in her previous books, Kincaid has exquisite control over her narrator's deep-seated rage, which drives the story but never overpowers it and is tempered by a clear-eyed sympathy. Her prose here is more incantatory and hypnotic than ever . . . This is [a] taut and often spellbinding novel." -- Publishers Weekly
"What she's written, really, is a meditation on Antigua, the island where she was born, on fatherhood, motherhood, emotional cruelty. She captures moments of pure consciousness, isolating her characters, for emphasis, as only an artist can, stripping them of context, and then rebuilding their world before our very eyes: adding weather, color, song, pain and memory. This is a punishing, gorgeous book that gives life to an island, to its Middle Eastern refugees and its black business class, to its poor mothers and abandoned children . . . By the end, Kincaid has, magically, transformed the reader's consciousness." -- The Baltimore Sun
"Mr. Potter may be an illiterate taxi driver in Antigua, but the story Kincaid creates for him is as rich and complex as that of any aristocrat." -- Library Journal
"Like Kincaid's Lucy and Autobiography of My Mother, her latest is a meditation on the invisible bonds -- the ties of family and island community -- that weigh on her characters, and on the strains of history simmering below the plot's deceptively tranquil surface. Here is the recurring message beneath all the rhythmic run-on sentences: the saving power of written word. Which is, of course, the familiar leitmotif of all of Kincaid's mesmerizing work." -- Time Out New York
"Astonishing . . . gorgeous . . . Kincaid is a fierce, idiosyncratic stylist, piling up emphatic sentences to achieve a mesmerizing poetry." -- Paul Evans, Book
"Like waves, Kincaid's language keeps doubling back hypnotically, picking up details and nuances along the way . . . Conjuring his name repeatedly, she brings Mr. Potter into the light. In writing his story, Kincaid makes him unflinchingly real." -- People
“A hypnotically repetitious narrative telling of a sunbaked island Antigua and the community that has washed up on it, as seen through the eyes of an illiterate taxi driver.” -- The Bookseller
“Kincaid continues to write with a unique, compelling voice that cannot be found anywhere else. Her small books are worth a pile of thicker -- and hollower -- ones.” -- Jeffrey Rodger, The San Francisco Chronicle
“Ms. Kincaid writes with passion and conviction…[with] a poet’s understanding of how politics and history, private and public events, overlap and blur.” -- Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Writers wish for perfect readers, but readers wish even harder for perfect writers and rarely find them…Jamaica Kincaid is about as perfect as it’s possible to be.” -- Carolyn See, The Washington Post
“[Kincaid] is a consummate balancer of feeling and craft. She takes no short cuts or long cuts, breathes no windy pomposities: she connects herself with being direct…So lush, composed, direct, off, sharp, and brilliantly lit are Kincaid’s word paintings that the reader’s presuppositions are cut in two by her seemingly soft edges.” -- Jacqueline Austin, Voice Literary Supplement
Walking to Mr. Shoul's garage to begin his day of sitting in Mr. Shoul's car and taking passengers to and fro, to and fro (he was a chauffeur, he did not mind being a chauffeur), Mr. Potter took shelter from the sun by walking through narrow streets and alleys. He saw a dog, her breasts distended and swollen, her stomach distended and swollen, lying in the shade of a tree native to some of the dry vast plains of Africa, but he did not think that this dog, pregnant and weary from carrying her pups, seeking shelter from that sun, was a reflection of any part of him, not even in the smallest way; and Mr. Potter saw a man sitting in his doorway and this man was blind but his ears were most sensitive to the sounds of footsteps coming toward him or footsteps going away from him, and when he heard the sounds of feet coming toward him he got ready to beg the owner of the footsteps for money; this man knew the sound of Mr. Potter's footsteps and he had never asked the owner of those footsteps for anything of any kind. And seeing the blind man sitting in the doorway with his beggar's cup, seeing the blind man expelling into the ground a mouthful of the thick, sticky white phlegm that had slowly gathered in his throat, Mr. Potter did not think that any part of him was reflected in this sight before him. Going toward Mr. Shoul's garage, Mr. Potter saw a boy going to school, he saw most of the garments one family owned hanging on a string of wire, being dried in that way. He saw a woman smoking a cigarette, he smelled the stink coming from some gray-colored liquid that lay stagnant in the gutter, he saw some birds sitting on a fence, and none of this reminded him of himself in any way and that was only because everything he saw was so closely bound to him; between him and all that he saw there was no distance of any kind. And so Mr. Potter entered Corn Alley and walked down it and then left it altogether, and Mr. Potter turned onto Nevis Street and he was then at Mr. Shoul's garage. Mr. Shoul was not there and did not need to be. And on the day Mr. Potter met Dr. Weizenger the sun was in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky, shining in its usual way, so harsh and bright, and making the shadows pale and making the shadows themselves seek shelter and causing Mr. Potter to make his way to Mr. Shoul's garage through a passage of narrow alleys and shaded backstreets; on such a day Mr. Potter met Dr. Weizenger.
In Mr. Shoul's garage there were three cars and these cars all belonged to Mr. Shoul, but Mr. Shoul himself was not in the garage with his cars. Mr. Shoul was upstairs in his own house above the garage where the three cars were, and Mr. Shoul by then, that is by the time Mr. Potter arrived in the garage where there were the three cars, had eaten eggs and oat porridge and bread that had been buttered and cheese and had drunk cups of Lyons tea and had said unkind things in an unkind way to a woman who washed his family's clothes and then said unkind things in an unkind way to the woman who had just made his breakfast. These two women were in no way related to him, he did not know them at all, they, like Mr. Potter, were the people he had lived among since leaving that place so far away, the Lebanon or Syria, someplace like that, barren and old. And in the Lebanon or Syria, that old, barren place, Mr. Shoul's breakfast would not have been like this, abundant and new (the eggs had been laid just the day before and the entire breakfast was warm and carefully cooked), but Mr. Shoul could adjust to anything and did adjust to everything as it came his way, and many things came his way, good and bad, and he stayed when it was good and left soon after things got bad. But now things were good and Mr. Shoul stayed at his breakfast, for Mr. Potter was in the garage, wiping down the cars, starting with the one he, Mr. Potter, would drive that day, the one he drove every day, and then wiping down the car that his friend Mr. Martin would drive and then wiping down the car Mr. Joseph would drive. Mr. Joseph was not a friend of Mr. Potter's, Mr. Joseph was only an acquaintance.
And on that day Mr. Potter drove Mr. Shoul's car to the jetty to await a large steamer coming from some benighted place in the world, someplace far away where there had been upheavals and displacements and murder and terror. Mr. Potter was not unfamiliar with upheavals and displacements and murder and terror; his very existence in the world in which he lived had been made possible by such things, but he did not dwell on them and he could not dwell on them any more than he could dwell on breathing. And so Mr. Potter met Dr. Weizenger.
Posted July 6, 2002