Monday, June 1, 2009

The Painted Canoe; Funny and Serious Side by Side

Ok so I'm having my second read of Anthony Winkler's "The Painted Canoe". I saw "Going Home to Teach" and "The Great Yacht Race" neither of which I've read as yet, but I chose "The Painted Canoe". I used the other library card to get "Hop on Pop" from Dr. Suess for the Little Gentleman.

"The Painted Canoe" begins with a point blank description of the unspeakably ugly Zechariah Pelsie. You would think that the description would totally descredit Pelsie and make the reader have no faith at all in him, but it is not so at all. I respect Pelsie and treat him almost as if he's real. For instance, I was telling myself this morning that Pelsie is right; people bother God too much about things they can and should do for themsleves.

Yes, Pelsie is an illiterate, but he is wiser than plenty. In fact, one of the critics who has given kudos to this novel comments that it is an 'exploration of the triumph of folkwisdom over cold scientific criticism'.

I wanted to read something by Winkler because I recently read a review of his reading at Calabash, and I felt like kicking myself for missing only the premiere Literary event in the Caribbean - again. But what can I tell you, there is no way I'm going to tek show off and spend my little much and go down to Senty, and then in the two weeks before payday I'm using my credit card to survive, and be owing Mas Ken my fare. Nope. Next year maybe.

So in this review in the Gleaner, I got a reminder of how intelligent Winkler is. I also found out he is a white dude, not so young anymore, who was often beaten by a black teacher for being of the privileged class in Jamaica. Incidentally, I'd written my last post about Jackass saying the worl nuh level, before I read that newspaper review. Winkler grew up on the privileged side of things, but his behind had the disadvantage of having to face the whip of Mr. Inferiority Complex every week.

I chose to reread "The Painted Canoe" rather than pick something new because I wanted to relive Pelsie stranded out at sea, and Pelsie facing a terminal disease. I needed an antidote to this thread that I had wasted my time reading, and to regain my confidence that some people have an indomitable will to survive, some people construct their own purpose, and all of us, specks that we are, make a footstep in time because we existed. So, as ugly and fool-fool as Pelsie is, he has something inside that drives him to survive even the most daunting odds.

Now Winkler is the master of hilarious, if you don't believe me, see for yourself, here are the first two or so pages from "The Lunatic".


Will said...

I've read The Lunatic and the stories in The Annihilation of Fish. I thoroughly enjoyed them both, but for some reason never got around to reading anything else by Winkler. I always thought The Lunatic would be a tough act to follow - and I didn't want to read anything that he wrote which could be in any way serious, since I think he is a comic genius.

But now I go have to read The Painted Canoe. You keep doing this to me!

PS - I'm kicking myself over Calabash too. You're not alone.

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Jacqueline Smith said...

Ah Will, I was feeling that The Painted Canoe would be a tough act to follow. It was his first novel, took him three years to write, went through a whole heap of rejections, some publishers thought his work was plain bad, others felt it wasn't for the American market, finally got it published here in Jamaica. The editions I've seen have been by Macmillan Caribbean. Hmmmmm. There are Caribbean people everywhere, I think we should be the initial market, nuh true? So that our talent can flourish and our expressions be heard, cause our writers often speak for us, and they do it so well. In Canoe, for instance, Winkler describes how the men play dominoes on the shop piazza, and how slapping the cards on the table is part of the game, and the various cheats that get done. In another part he explains what "ahoa" means. "Ahoa" is often an expression of triumph, you and a brethren have a heated argument, and when it is clear that you are right you say "ahoa". It can be very infuriating, that ahoa, like rubbing the loser's nose in it. I use it all the time, but I mostly use it to mean " oh I see". I'm not even sure if the spelling gives the right sound of the expression. But all this rambling is to say, I am thrilled to see "ahoa" in a novel, and used in an authentic way, and this could only have been done by someone who knows. Do you guys say ahoa over there in SVG?

Will said...

i totally agree that we should always shoot for the region as our intended market when we write about it authentically... but then there are the black swans - tobias buckell for example, and perhaps people like nalo hopkinson and stacyann chin... if we KNOW our writing will be misunderstood, underrepresented or even spurned by the majority of caribbean readers, isn't it wise to publish someplace that our genre or thematic concerns will be appreciated?

lol... i remember ahoa from my uwi days and my JA friends... we say eh-heh or tek dat to mean similar things...

Jacqueline Smith said...

Absolutely, go where your readers are. I didn't mean to sound as though I were limiting our writers to the slim Caribbean market. I meant that we the Caribbean market should embrace our own and give them wings to take on the rest of the world. Still, more power to those black swans.

Abeni said...

I just read Dog War and it was hilarious. Y'all should try and get a copy.It's along the lines of the Lunatic