In "See Now Then," the brilliant and evocative new novel from Jamaica Kincaid-her first in ten years-a marriage is revealed in all its joys and agonies. This piercing examination of the manifold ways in which the passing of time operates on the human consciousness unfolds gracefully, and Kincaid inhabits each of her characters-a mother, a father, and their two children, living in a small village in New England-as they move, in their own minds, between the present, the past, and the future: for, as she writes, "the present will be now then and the past is now then and the future will be a now then." Her characters, constrained by the world, despair in their domestic situations.Read more...
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In "See Now Then," the brilliant and evocative new novel from Jamaica Kincaid-her first in ten years-a marriage is revealed in all its joys and agonies. This piercing examination of the manifold ways in which the passing of time operates on the human consciousness unfolds gracefully, and Kincaid inhabits each of her characters-a mother, a father, and their two children, living in a small village in New England-as they move, in their own minds, between the present, the past, and the future: for, as she writes, "the present will be now then and the past is now then and the future will be a now then." Her characters, constrained by the world, despair in their domestic situations. But their minds wander, trying to make linear sense of what is, in fact, nonlinear. "See Now Then "is Kincaid's attempt to make clear what is unclear, and to make unclear what we assumed was clear: that is, the beginning, the middle, and the end.
Since the publication of her first short-story collection, "At the Bottom of the River," which was nominated for a PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, Kincaid has demonstrated a unique talent for seeing beyond and through the surface of things. In "See Now Then," she envelops the reader in a world that is both familiar and startling-creating her most emotionally and thematically daring work yet.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-12-10
- Reviewer: Staff
In her first novel in a decade, Kincaid (Autobiography of My Mother) brings her singular lyricism and beautifully recursive tendencies to the inner life of Mrs. Sweet, who is facing the end of her marriage, and who, over the course of the book, considers the distinctions between her nows and her thens, particularly when recounting what was while the memories bleed with a pain that still is. Particularly touching is Kincaid’s rendering of motherhood. The immediacy of Mrs. Sweet’s small son’s toys—Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers—creates a significant foil to the ethereal interior echoes. Such is the reality of parenting: what is imagined or remembered loses every battle against plastic warriors and the demands of children. What’s startling is the presumably autobiographical nature of the plot. The family lives in Bennington, Vt., like Kincaid, and Mr. Sweet is a composer who leaves his wife for a younger musician, as was the case with Kincaid’s former husband. While evidence of fictionalization is obvious (naming the children after Greek myths), the book feels precariously balanced between meticulous language and raw emotion. The distinction between life and art is not always clear, but only a writer as deft as Kincaid can blur the lines so elegantly. Agent: The Wiley Agency.(Feb.)
Kincaid's first novel in 10 years illuminates the veneer of family
Jamaica Kincaid’s new novel, See Now Then, begins in a small house in New England inhabited by the Sweets—mother, father and two children—and at first appears as simple and as pleasing as a child’s drawing. But wait! The house once belonged to Shirley Jackson, author of “The Lottery” and other stories of the worst in human behavior. When Mr. Sweet lets slip how much he hates his wife, it becomes clear that this slim volume is no fairy tale, but rather a study of a family on the brink of dissolution.
Jamaica Kincaid's latest novel is a study of a family on the brink of dissolution.
Mr. Sweet is a frustrated composer with a rash of phobias; Mrs. Sweet is a gardener and a writer whose husband and children mock her exploits and resent her work. Mr. Sweet comes from an upper-class intellectual New York family; Mrs. Sweet hails from a Caribbean island and, as Mr. Sweet says disparagingly, came to the United States on a banana boat. Whatever brought them together has long soured, an attraction of opposites turning to a dislike born of familiarity. The children, boldly named Heracles and Persephone, are each aligned with the opposite-sex parent, but the connections between them weaken as their parents’ love turns to contempt.
Kincaid uses names and tales from Greek mythology to suggest a kind of universality, but the specifics of her characters imply that she is drawing from her own experience. In fact, at one point Mrs. Sweet quotes from her novel—recognizably one of Kincaid’s own. Kincaid has used her family as subjects in her fiction before—her biological parents in Autobiography of My Mother and Mr. Potter, to name two—but there is something more ruthless and unsentimental about See Now Then, perhaps because it is about a bond made by choice rather than biology.
Kincaid’s fiction relies on simplicity of vocabulary and looping, almost cyclical, rhythms, zooming in to read her characters’ thoughts and shifting back to encompass the politics of race and vicissitudes of history. Her lightly punctuated and repetitive, almost stream-of-consciousness style may not work for everyone, but her implication that a deep unknowingness lies beneath even our closest ties will strike close to the heart.