This is a debut novel by a Jamaican writer who is showing strong signs of being fearless, something I can always get behind. The novel is set in Jamaica, but not the tourist wonderland. It's the story of Delores and her daughters Margot and Thandi. Delores sells tacky souvenirs to tourists, often being browbeaten into selling them for not enough money, and it's not surprising that she's bitter and angry. Her oldest daughter, Margot, appears to be far more successful; she works at a large hotel and is gunning for a management role. However, part of Margot's success is that she's providing extra "customer service" to rich clientele on the side. Her reasons for doing so appear worthwhile: Thandi is the only member of the family to have succeeded in school, and she's on the verge of graduating. Both Delores and Margot are grooming Thandi to go to college and become a doctor, pull herself completely out of the cycle of poverty and, in the case of Margot, prostitution. Margot is also hiding something else: She's a lesbian in 1990s Jamaica, where being gay at best could lead to being ostracized, and at worse could lead to brutal beatings and death. Add to this intense storyline the backdrop of a new hotel project threatening their small town--as in, the residents could find themselves homeless as the hotel owners take over their property and make it private.
That's a lot going on. I have mixed feelings about the overall execution. On the plus side, as I said before, author Dennis-Benn is fearless. She confronts these situations head-on and doesn't fall into the trap of sentimentalizing anything. Some of her writing is beautiful. She also uses a patois dialect and makes it work. It slowed me down a bit at first, but soon I could feel the rhythm of it, and was glad she used it and used it well.
On the minus side, the book is almost halfway done before the real plot kicks into motion. That's a long time of character-building, and there's a fair amount of repetition there. Yes, we get it--Thandi visits the local wise woman on the sly to get her hands on ointments to make her skin lighter. We don't need multiple scenes of that. Backstory is introduced right in the middle of the action at times, and it's not necessary. Or in one case, it was necessary, but could have been made part of the present action rather than stalling the story to give the history. The sex scenes border on--and sometimes topple over into--floridness. My biggest complaint (and I won't give spoilers) involves the ending, which is abrupt. I don't mind if things aren't tied up in a neat bow, but I would have liked a little more information about what happens to some of the characters.
Still, I was never tempted to stop reading, and I think the author is one to watch. I'll definitely seek out her next book.