The story of an ordinary man, his century, and his home: "Kincaid's most poetic and affecting novel to date" (Robert Antoni, The Washington Post Book World)
Jamaica Kincaid's first obssession, the island of Antigua, comes vibrantly to life under the gaze of Mr. Potter, an illiterate taxi chauffeur who makes his living along the roads that pass through the only towns he has ever seen and the graveyard where he will be buried. The sun shines squarely overhead, the ocean lies on every side, and suppressed passion fills the air.
Ignoring the legacy of his father, a poor fisherman, and his mother, who committed suicide, Mr. Potter struggles to live at ease amid his surroundings: to purchase a car, to have girlfriends, and to shake off the encumbrance of his daughtersone of whom will return to Antigua after he dies and tell his story with equal measures of distance and sympathy.
In Mr. Potter, Kincaid breathes life into a figure unlike any other in contemporary fiction, an individual consciousness emerging gloriously out of an unexamined life.
|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.47(d)|
About the Author
Jamaica Kincaid's recent books include Talk Stories (FSG, 2001), a volume of her New Yorker writings. In 2000 she was awarded the Prix Fémina Étranger for My Brother (FSG, 1997). She lives in Vermont with her family.
Read an Excerpt
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, making even the shadows pale, making even the shadows seek shelter; that day the sun was in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky, but Mr. Potter did not note this, so accustomed was he to this, the sun in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky; if the sun had not been in its usual place, that would have made a great big change in Mr. Potter's day, it would have meant rain, however briefly such a thing, rain, might fall, but it would have changed Mr. Potter's day, so used was he to the sun in its usual place, way up above and in the middle of the sky. Mr. Potter breathed in his normal way, his heart was beating in its normal way, up and down underneath the covering of his black skin, up and down underneath his white knitted cotton vest next to his very black skin, up and down underneath his plainly woven white cotton shirt that was on top of the knitted cotton vest which lay next to his skin; so his heart breathed in its normal way. And he put on his trousers and in the pocket of his trousers he placed a white handkerchief; and all this was as normal as the way his heart beat; all this, his putting on his clothes in just that way, as normal as the way his heart beat, the heart beating normally and the clothes reassuring to Mr. Potter and to things beyond Mr. Potter, things that did not know they needed such reassurance.
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.
Table of Contents
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
At first the method of repetition turned me off, but I soldiered on and halfway through I began to understand what Kincaid was up to and accept some of the repetition in the following ways:1. A refrain or chorus that is repeated throughout, such as the repeating of Mr. Potter's birth and death dates, who his parents were, who Elaine (the narrator's) parents were, that Potter could not read and could not write but Elaine could, and so forth--all facts that as they repeat and repeat accumulate in meaning until by book's end you realize why the narrator dwells on such facts as she tries to make sense of this father she never knew, this father who never claimed her. If the book were a song or a suite of songs or an opera, they'd be melodies and choruses and refrains that would convey meaning to us whenever they appeared in the structure.2. Anaphora where the same words or phrases are repeated at the beginning of sections or chapters or even within a paragraph lifting the prose into not quite poetry but quite poetic passages. "There was a line drawn through me" was one of the more successful moments of this.3. A way of thinking that spins out an idea or fact and repeats the idea or fact in the same words but a different order, almost as if Elaine is stating the facts and then turning them over and over again in her hands, looking at them from different angles, dissembling the parts and rebuilding the shapes to see if the shapes change, to make sense of the shapes.And I liked this quote:"...often a thing that is ugly is ugly in itself, and often a thing that is ugly is only a thing that is forgotten, kept from view and kept from memory, and often a thing that is ugly is not only a definition of beauty itself but also renders beauty as something beyond words or beyond any kind of description."
Set in Antigua, Mr. Potter is more of a series of snapshots of the way in which Mr. Potter interacted with others. Much of the language was repetitious. It is a far cry from the smooth narratives most of us are accustomed to reading, yet in its own way, it is effective, showing the rhythm in which persons are settled. There is also much allusion in the work. This will never become a favorite book of mine, but I can appreciate the author's unique manner of telling the story of Mr. Potter.
This is a page turner. I recommend this realistic, smooth flowing, thought provoking novel!