Myth and marriage in Jamaica Kincaid's latest
Don’t let the lulling rhythms of the prose or the idyllic setting of See Now Then, Jamaica Kincaid’s new novel published this month by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, trick you into thinking that this is a modern fairy tale, replete with a happy ending.
Kincaid, who is Josephine Olp Weeks Chair and professor of literature, has created a story that takes a lyrical, myth-infused approach to a painful subject, the dissolution of a marriage.
Living in a quaint New England village, the Sweet family is at the center of this novel, which is receiving excellent reviews and critical praise across the landscape of the literary media. Reviews and articles about Professor Kincaid are appearing in a variety of media outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time magazine and NPR.org.
Today, on KCRW's "Bookworm" program, host Michael Silverblatt interviewed Kincaid about her new novel. Visit KCRW/Bookworm to listen to the broadcast.
See Now Then, says staff writer Hector Tobar in a Los Angeles Times book review, is “the story of a marriage whose toxicity is killing the two people in it. But more than that, the book reads like an allegory or fable about a doomed family, an effect heightened by its protagonists, Mr. and Mrs. Sweet, having two children with names taken from Greek mythology — Heracles and Persephone.”
In the pages of the Washington Post, Marie Arana goes even further, explaining how the novel gathers and melds themes and concerns that have characterized Kincaid’s entire literary career.
“Much of what we have come to expect from Kincaid is in evidence [in the novel],” writes Arana, “her rage against the Colonial spirit, a spirit that lives on in hierarchies based on skin color; her conviction that a separate world history can be told by women; her faith that the most important events we experience are hidden in small acts, seemingly inconsequential moments that define our humanity.”
The novel’s meditative quality is highlighted by Heller McAlpin at NPR. Org: “What's remarkable about See Now Then is its balance of the prosaic (Ninja Turtles and Maxwell House coffee) and the profound (reflections on the ultimate incomprehensibility of how time works).”
Media coverage also includes a New York Times profile by Felicia Lee, whose suggestion that See Now Then is autobiography wrapped in a fictional veil is firmly rebuffed by the author, and an entertaining Time magazine feature, “10 Questions for Jamaica Kincaid.” In the Time interview, Kincaid muses on her daily routine, on race, her arrival as a young woman in the U.S. from the West Indies, and the meaning of happiness and unhappiness.
“One doesn’t have to pursue unhappiness. It comes to you,” Kincaid tells the Time interviewer. “You come into the world screaming. You cry when you’re born because your lungs expand. You breathe. I think that’s really kind of significant. You come into the world crying, and it’s a sign that you’re alive.”
Professor Kincaid arrived at CMC in 2009 to teach creative writing and literature. A major literary voice with a global reputation, Prof. Kincaid’s books include Annie John, Lucy, The Autobiography of My Mother, and Mr. Potter.
Media response to See Now Then: A Selection
Washington Post: "See Now Then is Jamaica Kincaid's latest roar"
Los Angeles Times: "Jamaica Kincaid scrolls through time in See Now Then"
NPR.org: "Writing Well is the Wronged Wife's Revenge in See Now Then"
New York Times: "Never Mind the Parallels, Don't Read It as My Life"
Time magazine: "10 Questions for Jamaica Kincaid"