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A maverick approach to storytelling

Published:Sunday | March 21, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Title: The Village Curtain - A Jamaica Collection

Author: Tony Tame

Publisher: Savant Books

Reviewer: Paul H. Williams

"Tony Tame," the about-the-author note says, "has been associated with the marine industry since around the mid-1960s. After 1970, he became directly involved in the supply and service of equipment to the commercial fishing industry in Jamaica. His lifelong interest has been the methods used in various types of fishing and the people who work in this field."

So, it is not surprising that Tame wrote a collection of stories that are invariably about fishing, fisher-folk and the sea, with vivid descriptions of the geography and fauna of the locations.

Set in fictitious Jamaican coastal communities, with the mention of real-life places such as Black River and Manchioneal, the stories do not fall within the conventional box of fiction writing. While some of them have a subtle amount of tension, the elements of exposition, complication, crisis, falling action and resolution are not pronounced.

They are mainly sketches of situations, told with a sort of laid-back style. There is no high drama, save for the gunfight on a fishing vessel, but there are several moments of subtle humour. In essence, they do not have intricately woven plots and mind-boggling conflicts. There is much philosophising and allusions to political corruption and government ineptitude.

The stories, though separate in their settings and characterisation, are loosely connected by some characters and veiled references to previously mentioned situations. There are recurring people such as the elderly Mr James, who seems to be the person everyone consults for advice; Leon the 'explosive' fisherman, who had lost a hand in a blast, but who continues to dynamite fish; Michael, who spent some time in jail in the United States and was deported, only to participate in, among other things, a tragic drug deal on the high seas.

Other notable personalities are Sonia Carpenter, the white American investor; 'The Charity Man', who is disillusioned by and bitter about some of the people whom he tried to help; 'Mouse', a fellow inmate of Michael, and an old, tired dog, which was highly personified.

"He was a weather-beaten dog with arthritis ... He looked up at Myra (his owner), the love of his old life, and his eyes filled with fear as the fur on the back of his neck stood up. He was a one-woman dog who had been with her from the days when he was very young, and he knew that his world would never be the same again," Tame writes.

Mysterious death

It seems that after Myra's mysterious death, the dog falls into a deep depression and turns to rum. "That dog belonged to a woman who fell or whatever off the bluff. He started hanging about the place and me let him sleep here now. But him have a problem, Super. He's turning into an alcoholic. A rum head. The boys pour white rum in his bowl ... cause he looks kind of downhearted all the time, and it got to be a habit with them and him too. Most nights after seven him can't walk straight," Jimmy, the bartender, says to Inspector Anderson, who is investigating Myra's death. The dog eventually died one rainy night.

The unusual approach taken by Tame might not be everybody's favourite, especially for those who are into much melodrama, but it might just be refreshing for those who love literary mavericks.