Sun | Sep 22, 2019

Revisiting the classics

Published:Sunday | August 25, 2019 | 12:20 AM
Ann-Margaret Lim
1
2

In some ways, Anton Nimblett, author of the seventeen short stories in Now/After, is reminiscent of Jean Rhys. There are at least four stories – ‘Perseverance Village’, ‘Something Promised’, ‘In This Night Air’ and ‘Spouter Inn’ – where we see the fan, who is also the author, telling the backstories of novels that have served as influences and influencers of his art.

Like Rhys, who, through Wide Sargasso Sea, tells the backstory of Bertha in Jane Eyre, Nimblett further develops Ishmael in Moby Dick; Stephen Slime, grade-school teacher from In the Castle of My Skin; and shopkeeper David Das in V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas, with all three, to varying levels, drawn to their own sex.

In ‘This Night Air’, unlike the other three, does not reflect a development of the character, in this case, Manuel in Jacques Romain’s Masters of the Dew, but instead presents a scene in which Laurelien, the village carpenter, while building a coffin for Manuel, reflects on the events that led to his demise. Although probably not intended, the devotion of and hurt felt by the friend building ‘his chief’s’ coffin is reminiscent of the drunk bartender in Eddie Baugh’s poem ‘The Carpenter’s Complaint’.

Gulliver’s Travels, Nobokov’s Lolita and the groundbreaking 1968 play Boys in the Band are the other more obvious original pieces that Now/After pays homage to as it re-examines characters and imagines scenes that could have been.

This telling of backstories and further development of characters we may already know shines the spotlight on the author’s ability to see beyond the obvious and hear or imagine the unsaid things or the music underneath, very much like the boy named Winston in the collection’s first story – ‘Farrell’.

The narrator is a calypso bass player also named Farrell, who tells the story of Winston. Below is what he says of Winston, the young boy. (The story is written in Trinidadian talk, so ‘he find’ and ‘he know’ are not typos.)

I watch Winston grow up in Les Coteaux from that day. He find music in

the usual places – the voices in his grandfather choir, the strings of a

fiddle and a bow, a shango drum – but he know how to find music in the

branches of a breadfruit tree and on the slimy rocks down by the river

too. Music in a beat-up water bucket, in the breeze and in the waves.

 

In this instance, Nimblett, through the narration of Farrell, a Les Coteaux-based ‘bassman’ (bass drum player), tells the story of Winston McGarland Bailey, otherwise known as The Mighty Shadow – the legendary ‘Trinbagonian’ calypsonian.

In Bassman, Mighty Shadow’s 1974 Road March-winning song, you will hear the lines, “Well one night I say to de bassman, ‘Give me your identification’. He sey, Dis is Farrell, your bassman from hell’.” From those lines, Nimblett weaves his delightful story that has within it an autobiography. The story begins with Farrell, the first-person narrator, though not the protagonist, protesting that he is not from hell.

Refocus on imagination

As it refocuses on imagination, Now/After also spotlights issues and themes that fit squarely into today’s world, where the queer, or LGBT, discourse is no longer hidden. While there are pieces that do not have that focus, at least four of the 17 prose pieces do. It is important to note here that Nimblett is a native of the twin-island republic of Trinidad and Tobago who now lives in Brooklyn, United States.

He represents the growing number of Caribbean writers who are writing stories with LGBT protagonists, interests, or influences. His current location also brings to focus another discourse in the Caribbean writing world, and this is, does the Caribbean writer need to be outside of the Caribbean to (comfortably) write about LGBT issues and characters?

Yes, there is a minority currently living in the Caribbean writing on these issues, but is this small group a positive correlation of the actual numbers of creative writers who identify as LGBT or write on those issues?

In ‘No One Looking’, Nimblett presents two sides of child sexual abuse as the abused boy and the single mom share narrative duties. In having them both tell the story, we see and experience the different vantage points and the varying concerns, obsessions, and reactions elicited from the same scenario, or courses of events. As he enforces our similarities, Nimblett reinforces the nuanced differences that make us individuals, thus redirecting us to see the person, the individual behind scenarios and statistics.

A story that reflects positively on Nimblett’s ability to present opposing personalities without casting one in the negative is ‘The Show’. Granted, there are six characters in ‘The Show’, the real focus is on two – Mark and Rick. Mark could be considered more flamboyantly gay, while Rick would be considered the ‘undercover brother’, the man you could probably think has a biologically female girlfriend.

‘Revolutionary’ service

Another story that seeks to accentuate our commonalities is ‘Joyce’s One Boy Child’ – a piece in which the son of a Spiritual Baptist mother and an Anglican father who becomes an Anglican priest himself seeks to join the two through a ‘revolutionary’ service.

Think of the Anglicans in Jamaica and the Revivalists sharing a service, and see the significance of the lines below, which we should take as not being specific only to religious sects but to all.

Fr. Bertrand – My cup runneth over. There is abundance. There is

infinite good. There is enough for you and me and I don’t need to count

what you get brothers and sisters in Christ, because my cup runneth

over and when you say the twenty-third psalm you know that your cup

runneth over… Live the psalm, brothers and sisters…. I want us to live

in abundance and honour one another…. When we honour one another

we do not lose, we do not lack. Our cup is running over. Let us honour

the Spiritual Baptists with us today, here in this church and here in the

Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

No doubt, the influence for this story is The Wine of Astonishment, which, along with the previously mentioned classics and the Mighty Shadow CDs, form the cover image. Like the cover image, the book’s title – Now/After – is outside of the ordinary, allowing itself for many interpretations. One of which could be that some of the stories represent the ‘now’ and also the ‘after’ at the same time since they were written after and in response to the classics. Another possible interpretation is that the stories that are not in response to the classics represent the ‘Now’, whilst those in response to the classics represent the ‘After’.

Aside from the stories mentioned above in this, Nimblett’s second prose collection, there are those that allow the nature lovers among us to revel in Nimblett’s depiction of a sunset or even rainfall. Let us revel in the sunset below, like the persona in ‘Ends of the Earth’, Brooklyn.

He disbelieved the show. It all went on forever, only pausing at horizons,

and even then, it spilled. Gilded far-off spires. Burnished tree tops…. A

repurposed snow globe filled with buzzing light and brush-stroked clouds

set ablaze.

Now/After

Anton Nimblett

Peepal Tree Press Ltd.: 2019

ISBN 13: 9781845234423

Rating: Essential

Availability: https://www.peepaltreepress.com/books/now-after

- Ann-Margaret Lim is a published poet. Her collection of poetry, ‘Kingston Buttercup’, was among the Bocas Prize 2017 poetry shortlist. Her books, which include ‘The Festival of Wild Orchid’ are available at Bookophilia, amazon.com and peepaltreepress.com. Email her at annyinpin@hotmail.com.