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Merle

Merle

Annie John - Jamaica Kincaid

This book gets points for a polished, literary writing style, but it is just so short, and most of it summarized. Its eight chapters could almost work as short stories, and Kincaid’s style often involves paragraphs that go on for a page or more, with few dramatized scenes.

This book is a coming-of-age story of a girl in Antigua, beginning when she’s 10 and ending when she’s 17. More than anything else the book focuses on Annie’s relationship with her mother; they are extremely close during Annie's childhood, but as she becomes a teenager they begin to fight constantly.

In all honesty, my biggest problem with the book is that on an emotional level it consistently left me rather baffled. For instance, here is the prepubescent Annie with one of her friends:

“Then, still without saying a word, the Red Girl began to pinch me. She pinched hard, picking up pieces of my almost nonexistent flesh and twisting it around. At first, I vowed not to cry, but it went on for so long that tears I could not control streamed down my face. I cried so much that my chest began to heave, and then, as if my heaving chest caused her to have some pity on me, she stopped pinching and began to kiss me on the same spots where shortly before I had felt the pain of her pinch. Oh, the sensation was delicious--the combination of pinches and kisses. And so wonderful we found it that, almost every time we met, pinching by her, followed by tears from me, followed by kisses from her were the order of the day. I stopped wondering why all the girls whom I had mistreated and abandoned followed me around with looks of love and adoration on their faces.”

Um, all right then? I have to say I’ve never had a relationship remotely like that. Especially not at age 12 or 13. Of course, reading wouldn’t be the pleasure it is if everything I read was already within my realm of experience, but the narrative method Kincaid uses here--lots of broad strokes and descriptions of relationships and feelings, not a lot of dialogue or scenes (the book weighs in at under 150 pages, after all)--is one that works best when readers can already relate to the situations described. If, like me, you don’t, you may be left a bit cold, seeing nothing but yet another coming-of-age story, and a weird one.