Title: Runaway Comeback
Author: Sandra A. Ottey
Topical, nerve-wrenching and instructive. Runaway Comeback is an existential odyssey, no less. It's cemented by a compelling plot that traverses the Atlantic. From Jamaica to New York and back. Selfishness and deception parry with dignity and self-sacrifice.
Here, domestic violence is raw and maddening. Misogyny reaches new heights but is interestingly overshadowed by an immigrant's worst nightmare of being socially hamstrung, undocumented and weaving tales of deception to outwit the system. And amid the turmoil there is also genuine love and displays of selflessness.
Yes, Ottey covers all bases. But is that enough to pull off an artistic triumph? Rose, the protagonist, is pummelled and deceived by her husband, her youthful ambitions dismantled ever so slowly and bloodily. She makes a daring escape to the US, her young daughter in tow, a daughter who is unable to cope with a new environment. It's every woman's nightmare, a concern to every conscionable human being.
What happens next to Rose is on the reader's front burner. It's a storyline that wallops a punch. But again, does it translate into a page-turning thriller? There are vestiges of suspense but in an overreach for detail Runaway slides, losing the elements of surprise and incredulity. Momentum wanes intermittently and atmosphere is wanting, loosening its grip on readers. One scene of eroticism seems artificial, almost disjointed from its preceding tormentous setting. Character development, too, is hackneyed and begging for more.
There is need for that greater atmospheric draw. There are flashes of brilliance, but just flashes. Regrettably, Ottey trumps literalism over other literary styles.
Readers are quickly aware of Rose's dread and her husband's psychotic rampages. Sure, even the most hardened of twisted machismo cultures will identify and sympathise with Rose. And when her marauding, duplicitous, and sociopathic husband becomes a victim of his own evil, there can be little or no sympathy. His inhumanity is revolting, not for the faint of heart. "Donovan slapped and thumped her non-stop … unleashing every ounce of stored-up anger on her, not caring how hard he punched her or where the punches landed ... one of Donovan's punches landed on her left eye ... for a split second tiny white lights flashed before her, then darkness."
And through it all is a little girl, their daughter, who with her mother make a daring escape from Jamaica to escape Donovan's terror.
At times Runaway is bereft of structured cadence as Ottey sprints through her paces when a stroll is better advised.
But for all its shortcomings, Ottey stirs the conscience with Rose's victimisation, and her laboured relations with her daughter, still yearning for her father. But there is always faith. Is Rose's waning religiosity the cause of her mired existence? Here, faith is lionised, bringing solace and may have well helped disentangle her from Donovan's claws.
In one scene, a crestfallen Rose second-guesses God's love. Maybe it's His way of re-engaging her to the Church. "Dear God, why have you forsaken me?" she bemoans, reminiscing on Grandmother's counsel to fast, pray and repent.
Cornered, her fate emerges. Her orison is heartfelt, moving. "Dear God ... I know you never forget about me. My daughter and I are illegal in this country ... . You helped me get away from Donovan alive, but now I feel like a prisoner in a foreign country. Lord, I am in trouble. Help me, please."
Runaway eventually awakens from its near slumber. We are well aware that a showdown with Donovan is around the corner. Ottey's undertaking is well timed. Women's rights, the travails and ever-mounting challenges of the West Indian diaspora, and the yearning for repatriation, are detailed in the chapter 'Miss my Yard'. It comprises multiple, passionate dialogues that will resonate with readers.
In the nick of time, Ottey comes alive, rescuing her work from self-destruction, from bouts of ennui and tepid, sappy displays of romance.
With a combination of ironic turns and twists, she rekindles her readers' thirst. How Rose rids herself of Donovan and finally asserts her independence will keep you guessing. Would some cruel twist of faith open another chapter of woes? The curtain call dangles, providing that much-needed inoculation for a work that began preying on itself.
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