“Kincaid has, magically, transformed the reader's consciousness, so we realize with a shock that we've moved, with the narrator, from a coldhearted contempt for Mr. Potter to a kind of purified, unsentimental sympathy.” Ben Neihart, The Sun (Baltimore)
The novelist known for her vivid and often harrowing depictions of women coming of age in impoverished tropical settings turns her attention to a male protagonist with Mr. Potter, a luminous portrait of an ordinary, illiterate man, his century, and his island home.
Kincaid follows up My Brother and Autobiography of My Mother with another unsentimental, unsparing meditation on family and the larger forces that shape an individual's world. The novel follows the life of one man, Mr. Potter, from his birth to his death (not necessarily in that order) on the Caribbean island of Antigua. Mr. Potter, a native Antiguan of African descent, works as a chauffeur for a Mideastern immigrant and then for himself. His world is full of displaced persons a client who is a Holocaust refugee, a lover from the island of Dominica but Mr. Potter gives no thought to his own displacement or the events in the wider world that have brought these people together. In fact, he doesn't think about very much besides securing creature comforts; at the book's opening, he is unreflective and unselfconscious "between him and all that he saw there was no distance of any kind." But what seems like a conventional narrative about a man's coming to consciousness becomes something quite different as the reader gradually gets to know the book's narrator, one of Mr. Potter's many illegitimate daughters, who slowly reveals her relationship to her father and whose voice comes to dominate the story. 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, with repeating phrases ("And that day, the sun was in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky, and it shone in its usual way, so harshly bright...") that can occasionally seem mannered. This, however, is a relatively rare occurrence in an otherwise taut and often spellbinding novel. (May) Forecast: After a number of pleasing but peripheral nonfiction projects (My Garden (Book): and Talk Stories), Kincaid returns to fiction. With My Brother (a memoir) and Autobiography of My Mother (a novel), Mr. Potter forms a kind of loose, autobiographical family series and should win the same acclaim and interest as its predecessors. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
In this latest from the author of The Autobiography of My Mother, the narrator composes a (hi)story to discover and describe her biological father, an illiterate taxi chauffeur in Antigua whom she does not know. Rhythmic and lilting, her speech patterns beautifully capture the sorrow and indifference of Antigua and of Mr. Potter himself. Starting with Mr. Potter's own fisherman father and then moving on to his various employers and the women in his life, the fictive genealogy is at once incomplete, indifferent, vivid, and as complex as the workings of one of Mr. Potter's cars: thousands of different movements repeating themselves but moving forward the hulking motion of history and family. For the daughter, this is a narrative of atonement; to say her father's name and to "imagine his life at the same time makes him whole and complete, not singular and fragmented." Like Kincaid's previous works, Mr. Potter is full of disillusion; the narrator sees through the world to the paradox at its center, acknowledging a dialectic in which "your joy is your sorrow, your joy has not turned to sorrow, your joy was always your sorrow." The result is vivid and affecting reading. Recommended for all fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/02.] Lyle D. Rosdahl, San Antonio P.L. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
An ambitious but often sententious attempt to link the story of a tropical island Everyman to great events of the era. The mood is somber, and the theme—the belief that the world is indifferent and life essentially sad ("for its glorious beginnings end and the end is always an occasion for sadness, no matter what anyone says")—may be depressing but it's certainly valid. Which makes for a downer of a book as Elaine Cynthia, a writer, tells the uneventful story of her father, called Mr. Potter throughout, who was born in 1922 and died 70 years later, facts that Elaine repeats . . . and repeats . . . as she does most details. The intention may be to create an incantatory rhythm paralleling the continuous ebb and flow of life itself, but the effect, unfortunately, is tiresome. Like her father, Elaine is illegitimate, one of many daughters Mr. Potter fathered on the island of Antigua. He was the illegitimate son of Nathaniel Potter, fisherman, and a sixteen-year-old girl, who, when he was five, gave him to another couple, Mr. and Mrs. Shepherd, then walked into the sea and drowned. The Shepherds were cold and distant, but Mr. Shepherd did teach Mr. Potter how to drive, a skill later turned into a lifetime job as a chauffeur. Mr. Potter works for Mr. Shoul, a Lebanese businessman who fled from Damascus, and he also meets Dr. Weizenger, a Jewish refugee from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia who sets up a medical practice These men's lives suggest a wider world beyond Mr. Potter's, but the illiterate chauffeur is more interested in women—Elaine's mother, an assistant to Dr Weizenger, is one of his numerous conquests—than in international events. Elaine describes her brief childhood encounter with herfather, his grave, and observes "how ordinary is the uniqueness of life as it appears in each individual." Disappointingly, too labored and self-conscious to achieve its ends.