Book Review: A disturbing tale of lost innocence
Glenville Asby, Reviewer
Book: Daisy McIntosh
Author: Roger Panton Publisher: CreatSpace, South Carolina
Roger H. Panton's Daisy McIntosh is an unnerving tale set in Jamaica. Against the backdrop of rural living, decades ago, is an unspeakable haunting conjured by a culture where machismo and misogyny have laid siege on innocence and cowed the conscience of a community.
Panton underscores the stifling impact of culture on a people. That we are locked in step, submitting to twisted values, silenced and immobilised to act and effect change is the overriding thrust of this compelling work. Sexual victimisation and abuse of girls is a worldwide phenomenon, and Panton has ably tapped into the very nerve of this wrenching subject.
But Panton delves deeper into this ubiquitous decadence. He carefully paints a vivid, dark picture of a social web that encircles and traps its residents, in particular, Daisy McIntosh. Truth and falsehood are indistinguishable. Rumours and facts interface, each losing its identity. Sordid fantasies are fulfilled by defiling innocence; incest loses its sinfulness; and naïvety welcomes impropriety as a sign of self worth. In McIntosh's world, a seething evil is the norm and few are untainted.
Panton proves an able writer, transitioning between scenes with fluidity and developing characters that are stark and vividly colourful. Yet, they never seem to dwarf the protagonist, Daisy. May, Matha, Ruth, Soldier and Manny are all significant 'players' and as intriguing as it gets.
Admittedly, friendships are formed, and some openly defend the rapacious character of the society. But the double dealing and violence never really lets up, and when it does, the violence has already left its mark.
Panton describes one such scene: "After a couple of years, Manny fell from grace and was forced to leave Plummers after beating up Lala one night, forcing her to walk to her parents' home in pouring rain. Neither would say what led to the fight that left Lala's face bruised and her thumb dislocated. However, Mr Warren, one of the local preachers and the district constable, took it upon himself to make the incident an item, much to the disgust of some of his flock who feared their own domestic business could one day suffer the same fate."
Surely, one would have thought that the building of the Panama Canal and other work opportunities abroad would have transformed a society. On some level it did, but only on a peripheral, if not vacuous level; for that famous dictum that change comes from within so aptly applies in this context. Sometimes, old values and habits cling to life perpetually.
There is little time for self-reflection as new wares have only presented new ways to deflower others. Sex, even, uninvited, cultivates identity. Panton is unmistakably raw and pours it on, shocking readers at the same time. Daisy, like other children in Plummers, is always fair game. The following psychologically numbing episode may well define the putrid state of affairs. "Daisy would enjoy the attention that Sammy, her fourteen-year-old friend (gave her) ... that was, however, different from what Mr Mills had done on her 12th birthday ... Mr Mills had pinched her nipples winked at her and invited her to feel his erect penis ... when she did not react, he had grabbed her hand and forcibly wrapped it around his bulge.."
And when sent by her mother, May, to live with her aunt, Daisy is again raped by her aunt's beau. "Geoffrey put his hand over her mouth once more and forced himself into her without any regard for her groans and feeble blows with her fists. He kept up a relentless motion as Daisy's body stiffened again and again in a fruitless attempt to move herself from the thrusting inside her ... . She didn't remember much after that."
It is a disturbing encounter that ripples through the household. Will her aunt believe Daisy's pleadings of innocence?
Eventually, Providence lifts Daisy from this mire. She bears signs of happiness - a scholarship, a sound Christian belief; travel, business, love and a betrothal. Her aunt, Ruth, and those who trusted her innocence and abilities stand with her, ever proud. Surely, this sounds like redemption. Maybe it is. Yet, one cannot help but ponder the scars etched deep in her unconscious.
Courtesy of Plummers.
Rating: Highly recommended.