Title: Puss Food and Other Jamaican Stories
Author: Ditta Sylvester
Publisher: LMH Publishing Limited
Reviewed by: Ruth Howard
There's no suspense. The sentences are short and straight to the point. It is clear that the writer's intention is not to deceive, but to tell a story. And she does so without flamboyance, but in a simple, curt way that will have you reading story after story until, surprisingly, you come to the end of the book. And you'll be left wanting more.
Ditta Sylvester's Puss Food and Other Jamaican Stories is a cunningly crafted series of short stories that tell tales of unrequited love, malicious cats, vengeful ghosts, family conspiracies, and secret murders. She lines the book with references to fundamental aspects of Jamaican life: the language, food, mythical and religious beliefs, and the many interesting nuances of rural living.
This book will be especially nostalgic for members of the diaspora, as Sylvester's stories evoke memories of peaceful days in the country, "yaad" vibes, and pure, Jamaican fun. There's a widow who struggles with her lazy son and his "too black" girlfriend in Freda's Harvest; there's a wily girlfriend who schemes her way into the house of her lover in To Die Or Not To Die; there's an obeah man who falls in love with a foundation churchwoman in Miss Essie and The Do-Good Man; and a father who takes great pains to keep his daughter on the straight and narrow in Daddy.
All 10 stories are firmly grounded in Jamaican reality, and readers will find themselves identifying Jamaican friends, relatives and community members in the characters they meet. For example, every rural community has a 'Miss Essie' - the inflappable defender of all things righteous and holy who calls down brimstone and fire on all sinners without fear or favour; or a 'Bruce Findlay' - the archetypal "pretty boy" who goes about town wooing all the young ladies.
While Sylvester does not develop her characters in much depth, readers will appreciate the smooth fluidity of her narrative and the many unexpected, interesting, and often humorous turns which her stories take as they cover topics ranging from love and hate to money and greed, lies and deception, family life, the importance of education, pets, and even obeah.
This second work of Ditta Sylvester, who won medals in the 2010 Jamaica Creative Writing Competition for two of the stories included in this collection, will warm the hearts of its readers and leave them with a deeper appreciation for the idiosyncracies of Jamaican life, and the time-honoured tradition of storytelling.