For some writers, short stories are a colourful box of assorted chocolates: pretty tasty, but extravagant. The same cannot be said for West Indian writers. Caribbean short stories are an important vehicle for exploring all the delicate layers of Caribbean culture. It’s difficult to capture the landscape of Trinidad, the strata of this complex culture and parade of ethnicities in a novel. Short stories, on the other hand, lend themselves to the various voices of these islands. Our current book club choice, Near Open Water, a collection of short stories by Trinidadian/Guyanese writer Keith Jardim, is no exception to this rich tradition of Caribbean stories that capture the essence of what it is to be Caribbean. Sparing no feeling, Jardim captures the humour, sadness, irony and horror of Trinidad society. (He sometimes veers off the island for a quick trip to Guyana). There is an underlying cynicism in some stories that you may beg to differ with. Still, it’s difficult to deny the undercurrent that washes these stories onto a seascape where real people struggle to survive in a place once perceived as paradise.
Be advised, these stories are not for the faint hearted. The subject matter is raw and the language is often blatantly brutal. Dialogue has not been sanitised. There are humourous moments, but there are no quaint stories like those that appear in the vignettes of the Caribbean classic Miguel Street by VS Naipaul. With all its angst, Near Open Water is a vivid reminder of the beauty of these islands and the reality that often borders on the edge of magical realism. No doubt that is what caught the attention of one of the reviewers of this collection, Lois Parkinson Zamora, who edited Magical Realism, the definitive text on the genre, which was published by Duke University.
Jardim’s stories have appeared in many publications from the Mississippi to the Trinidad and Tobago Review. He has a BFA and MFA in literature and writing from Emerson College in Boston, a PhD from the University of Houston’s creative writing and literature program, and Jardim is currently assistant professor of English literature and creative writing at Gulf University for Science and Technology in Kuwait. It is a combination of academics and real-life experiences that provide the perspective of an insider looking out into the world and an outsider looking into Caribbean culture. Don’t forget to join the SAS Book Club so you can send your comments on Near Open Water. Just log onto your Facebook page, and search for the SAS Book Club group to share your take on these short stories. What is your favourite story? What do these stories say about relationships and where our society is heading? Do you agree with the way Jardim portrays Trinidad?
Next week: A list of some of the best collections of Caribbean short stories. Get ready for the next leg of our SAS Book Club journey when we travel to Russia on August 26 for Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. You won’t want to see the movie in December without first reading this timeless classic.