Seldom does a reviewer meet the author of a book he's about to critique. But during my brief stay in Trinidad I met Lyndon Baptiste. For a few minutes we chatted. What I failed to discern then was the enormous talent of this young man who seemed quite unassuming. His recent effort, Boy Days, is a compilation of two dozen short stories that is ethnographically Trinibagonian in character. Lyndon's versatility is irrevocable.
Pages are littered with the sardonic humor and colloquialism of Paul Keen Douglas, the incomparable prose of Samuel Selvon, and the hauntingly poetic verses of Pearl Springer. Lyndon deftly uses colour, imagery, and cadence as a device -first steadying, and eventually gripping the attention of the reader. To the very end, Boy Days refuses to surrender. Lyndon Baptiste is that good. His literary style can be likened to that of an instrumentalist-evocative, with a perfectly timed ebb and flow.
Boy Days is a paradoxical and eclectic work of art that elicits the widest range of human emotions. Its pages are wrought with incredulity, superciliousness, joyous nostalgia, wrenching pain, and even anger. In truth, Lyndon's work transcends its contextual base. It tells stories of existential realities-past, present, and future.
In A Bitter Life, the evils of racism and sexual exploitation and violence jump out at the reader, forcefully. The protagonist, Seema, is ever so close to succumbing to these cultural diseases. "Wait! What you trying to do? Arrange a wedding? I is only 15 years old. You must be feel I is one of your goat or cow!" she screams at her father. Hers is a story that still resonates in every society.
In Obeah, Baptiste touches on an undeniable reality etched into the psyche of Caribbean people, their very DNA. Call it what you wish, but the belief in the supernatural, sometimes to the peril of the gullible is well captured in this thrilling piece. "Then the spirit overtake me," he writes, "and I start to dance and while I dancing, Mother Cornhusk beating me like a dog, but I not feeling a thing, and with every lash the pipe bending more and more......."
That Internet Thing is a belly full of laughs, as he relates his first time experience on a computer. He writes: "I hear about some kind o' thing name the Internet.... I watch porn until my back hurt. My whole life I can't talk to girls but if you see me on the ICQ...If them is thirty, I is thirty three; if they is eighteen, I is twenty-one; if them is sixty-five, I is sixty-eight." He concludes: "Women always like men three years older..."
Conversely, his Man on a Mission is rendered almost in an altered state, betwixt fantasy and reality. In Simon and Babylon, he delivers a guttural exposé on the stench of wasted youth to ill gotten gains. Finally, in The Teenage Man, this young author seals his literary depth with a Kantian discourse on laws and society. He muses: "If everyone who came out of school within the next ten years was like me, then society would be a different place. It would be normal to do what is considered wrong today."
Sadly, many of the best literary minds were recognised only after their transition. The profoundly enigmatic William Blake belongs to this special class. Luckily though, Lynden Baptiste is still among us. Why not give him his due now? At the end of the day, its always a boon to recognise unrecognised greatness.