“An acclaimed comic novelist in his native Jamaica, Winkler makes a long overdue American debut with this laugh riot. His heroine is Precious Higginson, a Christian Jamaican woman of 47 whose conventional worldview and proud, pious manner make her unintentionally funny. After her husband dies unexpectedly, Precious moves in with her son and his wife, but pudding-loving Precious and her health-nut daughter-in-law quickly turn the house into a war zone. It’s off to America then to stay with her daughter, a Miami police officer, and her hairdressing husband, Henry . . . After Henry makes a pass, Precious takes a job as live-in housekeeper at a Fort Lauderdale mansion. There, she cares for a spoiled dog, Riccardo; argues with Riccardo’s animal rights zealot owner, Mistress Lucy, who declares Precious ‘speciest’ for failing to appreciate it when Riccardo pees on her new shoes . . . Precious learns much about the limits of piety as the indignities mount and her beliefs are challenged in increasingly outrageous ways. Winkler’s wit, his ear for dialect and the sublime creation that is Precious add up to one howlingly funny book.” —Publishers Weekly
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"Lawd, I beg you, don't drop a tin can 'pon me head today!"
So muttered Precious Higginson as she sat before her bedroom vanity and pinned her hair one breezy Friday morning in her Jamaican mountain home.
Whether the morning was windless or breezy, Precious began every day with the same muttered prayer, for she knew from bitter experience that Almighty God sometimes got vexed and threw tin cans from heaven above onto the heads of heedless sinners roaming the world below. Indeed, just such a thing had happened to her as a child and had made her forever fearful of heavenly braining.
Then a mere girl of eleven, she had been sitting under a tree with a neighborhood boy. They had played over and over with the few makeshift wooden toys, climbed four or five trees, scampered up and down the beach, and were quickly bored to tears. To perk up the hour, the boy suggested that they fish inside each other's pants to see what could be found there, and a squealing Precious was soon nastily groping down his drawers with all ten brazen fingers. The Almighty had witnessed the crime, and a few minutes later as Precious skipped merrily away from the scene of filthy fondling, He-caused a tin can to be blown out of the branches of a tamarind tree, bonk her sharply on the head, and knock her to the ground.
Mummy came running over, clucking with materialistic comment and explanation. What rude boy had thrown that can into the branches? How unlucky for her one daughter to be passing under the tree just as a breeze dislodged the tin can! Why must the world always be so nastied up by coincidence and gravity?
But Mummy did not know where Precious's fingers had just been digging this past hour or what forbidden part it had been fondling. Only Precious knew, and she had learned her lesson: Crotch fondling is not permitted without due authority of marriage paper. And if you don't obey His will in this and other matters, God will surely lick you down with a tin can.
"Don't drop tin can 'pon you head! Good God, woman, you goin' make de new maid hear you and walk off de job! God love a duck, somebody please tell me why de one wife I have in de world must start off every blessed morning with de same fool-fool argument."
So bellowed the gruff voice of Theophilus, who stepped out of the bathroom wearing only a frowzy pair of drawers through which the snout of his brown penis sniffed suspiciously at the morning breeze. Precious modestly averted her gaze.
Theophilus dressed with fuss and clatter, for that was his nature. He was a dark-brown man who had a craving for rule and regulation and always seemed provoked. His face had too much ridge and sharp bone to it. Nose battled mouth for dominance, chin feuded with cheekbones, a simian ridge erupted violently out of his forehead like a continental shelf, and all warring parts were sealed under a lava flow of contentiousness that curdled the corners of his mouth and gave him the deadpan look befitting his role as headmaster of a secondary school.
Precious stared at her reflection in the mirror, scanning anxiously for pore and wrinkle and marbled gray strands of hair on her head.
She was forty-seven years old and invitingly padded in the way Third World women used to be before austere American dietitians began to run amok over the globe. Barely scribbled on by middle-aged wear and tear, her face was buffed smooth of bump and wrinkle. She had a soothing, matronly face and always seemed happy and content, as if she might at any minute bubble into a smile or gurgle into a laugh. Her complexion was the rich brown of healthy topsoil, and so long as Theophilus didn't pester her, she was always as radiant as a godmother.
"Why pore must open up on me nose, eh?" she moaned at her reflection. "I wonder if I take too much condensed milk in me tea."
"Pore opening up on you nose because you start off every blessed day with de same fool-fool argument. Keep it up for another twenty-eight year and you goin' end up with a pothole on you nose much less pore."
"Mind you make de maid see you naked," Precious warned, as Theophilus backed out of the closet, carrying an armful of the day's clothes.
"Dat all right," snickered Theophilus. "De sight o' Brutus will sweet her and start her day off proper."
Then he deliberately and provocatively swaggered in full view of the open doorway while Precious stared with Biblestudy attentiveness at a watermark on the bedroom ceiling and pretended she did not know who named Brutus or what on earth her husband was talking about.
She only knew that at forty-seven, even after twenty-eight years of marriage, she would dead before she addressed a penis by a Christian name.
Theophilus and Precious lived in an ancient wooden house perched like a jaunty schoolboy cap on the crest of a mountaintop. It was not the house in which they had reared their two children, both now grown and gone. Harold, their older child, was a dentist in Kingston with an island- wide practice and the father of two sons; Shirley, their second, was a Miami policewoman who had married a white American and borne two roughneck daughters.
The house in which these two had been raised was in Runaway Bay in a neighborhood where everything and everyone had been known, accepted, and familiar. For nearly twenty-eight years the Higginsons had lived there happily through the assorted childhood traumas of measles and incidental bruises; the woes of primary and secondary education; the postadolescent muddling over career path; the tearful departure from the nest along with accompanying migration, marriage, and grandchildren. Precious would have been quite content to grow gray and stooped in that beloved old house, drop dead in her own backyard, and fly straight from Runaway Bay into well-earned heaven.
But then one morning Theophilus woke up craving a peak.
"A peak? What you mean?" Precious wondered, staring with perplexity at him over breakfast when he first raised the subject.
Theophilus sighed and brushed familiar neighborhood fly off his forehead.
Lately he had been restless, uneasy, not sleeping and snoring in his usual way, like a pregnant sow. Something was troubling his peace of mind, and now it was coming out.
"You know, Precious, I born and raise in mountain country. And every now and again when I look around me, I don't see a peak. Not a peak to be seen."
"For heaven's sake, Theophilus! What are you talking 'bout?"
"Mountain peak, Precious! What other kind of peak could I-be talking about? Mountain peak!"
"Don't we have peak behind us?" Precious pointed at the shadowy drawing room wall behind which she knew, some miles away, loomed an unmistakable peak planted with tourist villas and apartments.
"Dat is a hump, not a peak! Precious, listen to me, I have to speak me mind about dis! What I feel for is real mountain peak! You don't know how I have me heart set on a house where I can see peak morning, noon, and night! De children grow and gone. Tourists crawling all over Runaway Bay. We have one little fool-fool hump behind we. I need peak, Precious. I want peak. I crave peak."
Precious sighed. A twitch darted in the corner of her mouth like a pent-up guppy. "You want to move," she surmised.
Theophilus nodded eagerly. "To a place with peak, Precious! To de mountains!"
Precious stirred her tea and drew doubting breath. Finally she said, "Theophilus, I am not a woman to oppose her husband. You want a peak, you get a peak."
"God bless de day I marry you!" Theophilus exclaimed, leaning over and smacking a noisy kiss on her forehead.
Precious chuckled at his childish delight. "My goodness, Theophilus! You're very welcome!"
A few months later the Higginsons sold their old house in Runaway Bay and moved into the mountain home where Precious had just greeted sunrise with her usual morning prayer.CHAPTER 2
The new house was in the district of Lime Hall over which mountain peak ran riot. Precious was one woman who preferred a soothing flatland to the unruliness of too much peak, and as she strolled in her garden before breakfast this morning, she could hardly bear to look at the surrounding skyline, it was so top-heavy and lumpy with mountain. Behind her was peak. To her left was a jumble of peaks, which dipped and slanted off into slopes curdled over with thicket and bush. Mist floated above the peaks, and the hillside of green thicket and dense bush was cobwebbed with damp slivers of ground fog. The only relief from the interminable clutter of peak was the distant scraped-clean ocean horizon.
Served by Maud, a woman with so little sense that they had secretly nicknamed her their fool-fool maid, Theophilus and Precious ate breakfast on the veranda. It was impossible to hire, train, and keep a sensible girl in a house so far atop a mountain and so deep in the bush, for she would not stay once she had trekked a few times up the winding marl driveway which even a hardened country cow could not climb without gasping for breath. Only someone truly fool-fool would work in an old wooden house rinded by gingerbread and planted in a puddle of grass on a mountaintop so desolate and barren that it was the ideal place for an escaped criminal to murder an innocent woman in her own bed.
Indeed, as a venue for slaughtering a helpless housewife, for tying her up on the bedpost and leisurely beating her brains out, this new house had no equal. No woman in the world could scream loud enough to bring rescue. Precious had proved this herself the very first day they moved in, by lying in her bed and pretending to be murdered by an escaped maniac from the lunatic asylum. She bawled that she was being butchered, raped, stoned, and clubbed, and after every anguished shriek for help, she had paused to listen hopefully for the scurrying footfalls of a savior. Not a one came. No matter how loud she bawled or about what fiendish and bloodthirsty torture ("Lawd God, he bite off me little toe!"), not even a peep rushed to her rescue.
When Theophilus came home after the first day that Precious had spent alone in the new house, he found her ready to move. She complained that she had taken vows to love, honor, and obey, but none required her to be slaughtered in a Godforsaken house just so a selfish husband could gaze upon mountain peak. They had a row about it, which meant that Theophilus tried to browbeat his wife into believing she had suddenly gone mad.
"Is it mad not to want to be murdered in your own house? You bring me up here so you can live among peak. Suppose a criminal come when you're at school. Suppose he bite off me little toe."
Theophilus glared at her with exasperation.
"Why would a criminal want to bite off you little toe?" he bellowed.
"Because dat's how criminal brain work! He might want to bite off me little toe, yes! He might want to do worse! What help would come? None, dat's what! None! He could take his own sweet time and gnaw off each toe even if he didn't have a tooth in his mouth."
"You just make me feel like I want to bite off you little toe meself! And maybe you two foot, too!"
"So now I must stay up here in this lonely house and be murdered just so dis man can see peak when him wake up in de morning!"
And so it went back and forth. Theophilus screamed and banged furniture and spoke longingly of how it would just sweet him to throw a woman off the side of the mountain. Precious rolled her eyes and said that she would gladly submit to being murdered by a heartless self-centered wretch of a husband, but please to carry her to a St. Ann's Bay lawyer so she could at least make her will and provide for the grandchildren. Night fluttered erratically around the house like a ratbat while the argument raged.
Finally they reached grudging agreement. Precious would get a job that would take her away from the despicable desolation in which she had been transplanted against her better judgment.
And for her protection Theophilus would buy two bad dogs.
Theophilus went out and bought two dogs. One was a big white dog; the other, a big red dog. When Theophilus had first brought the dogs home, neither he nor Precious could think of what to call them no matter how hard they rummaged through their stock of dog names. Precious suggested "Fido," which Theophilus said was damn French foolishness. Precious countered with "Poochie," which struck Theophilus as stupid (to prove his point he ran around the house bawling, "Here, Poochie! Come, Poochie!" and looked so ridiculous that even the fool-fool maid had to laugh). "Rover" was as American as rampaging gunman and just not suitable for a Jamaican dog. Precious suggested naming them after old- time Jamaican money, calling one "Thruppence" and the other "Sixpence," but Theophilus balked, saying that he was not prepared to name any dog of his a penny less than "Hundred Dollar." Precious said that such an exorbitant name for a dog would make people think they were secretly rich and draw gunmen.
After much back and forth over dog name, Theophilus declared that he wasn't going to get brain fever over it, and why didn't they just call the white dog "White Dog" and the red one "Red Dog." Precious agreed, remarking that since one dog was white and the other red their names had a sensible truthfulness.
From that day on the white dog was called "White Dog," and the red one "Red Dog."
Both White Dog and Red Dog proved to be hearty biters. White Dog loved to bite cow shank; Red Dog loved to bite human foot. White Dog would frequently go charging into the pasture whenever he spotted a cow that wanted a biting. Frequently the cow would disagree that it wanted a biting and would kick at him or try to buck him, but White Dog was usually too quick and would dart out of reach, circle, and get in a good nip on the shank of the beast, causing the terrified cow to stampede into the thicket, mooing.
Red Dog thought cow biting was infra dig and senseless teenaged fad. Human foot was what he loved to bite. Of course, there was little or no human foot in these remote parts, and what foot occasionally trampled the hillside was usually armed with a machete it was more than willing to use on a biting dog. Red Dog discovered this for himself the first time he tried to nip the heels of a drover in the pasture and got chopped for his trouble. He next tried to foot-bite the postman who had trudged up the hill to deliver a telegram and very nearly got his brains bashed out with a stick.
For a while after these misadventures Red Dog moped around the hilltop pasture looking forlornly on while White Dog frolicked about contentedly biting cow shank. Then one day, like a godsend, Red Dog spied the fool-fool maid trudging down the driveway and realized that all along right under his very snout was a human foot for biting. Red Dog catapulted off the cut-stone steps in an explosion of snarls and barks and hurtled at the foot of the maid, who was daydreaming about buying a new frock. The maid turned, glimpsed Red Dog thundering down on her, his fierce eye determinedly fixed on her foot, screamed, and flew up a tree. She sat clinging to a crook in the trunk, screaming bloody murder while Red Dog leapt and snapped at her dangling foot.
The maid remained stuck in the crook of the tree until Precious came home and threw stones at Red Dog and drove him off. As soon as she clambered down from the tree, the fool-fool maid spat out her notice and stalked off angrily. Precious chased after her and offered a dog-bite bonus of two hundred dollars if she would only change her mind and stay.
"I stick up inna tree for two hour because of dat dog and you-want give me two hundred dollar?" the maid scowled. "Is-two hundred dollar just fe climbing de tree?"
"Five-hundred-dollar bonus, den!" Precious countered. "Two fifty for de climbing, and two fifty for de near biting."
The maid scowled ever darker and scuffed at the gravel of the driveway with her toe.
"Is shoulda five hundred for climbing, five hundred for de time up dere, and a thousand for de near bite!"
"Lawd, Maud! How you so wicked, eh? I tell you what. Five-hundred fe de climb, five hundred fe de time, and five-hundred fe de near bite. A fifteen-hundred-dollar bonus."
Maud wrinkled her nose and grudgingly accepted.
That had happened months ago. Since then, Maud had collected two more fifteen-hundred-dollar bonuses because of Red Dog. One payment had been earned; Red Dog had really charged and treed her again. But the other episode had been a bogus vote. She needed a little extra money for her boyfriend, so she climbed the tree, straddled the crook with her bony rump, and hollered for Red Dog. When he ambled over to stare up at her with a puzzled expression, she threw him down a soup bone attached to a coarse string. Red Dog sniffed at the bone and settled under the tree to contentedly gnaw at its knobby end. At the sound of Precious's car approaching, Maud yanked the halfchewed bone out of his mouth, stuck it down the front of her dress, began blubbering for mercy and help, and so pocketed her bogus pay.
Excerpted from "Dog War"
Copyright © 2007 Anthony C. Winkler.
Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book illustrates one of the wonderful benefits of libraries. When a story like this starts off funny then wanders into rape and then continues on into bestiality you can kick yourself for continuing to read it but you can walk away with the satisfaction that at least you didn¿t pay for it!