Monday, July 27, 2009

Michael Crichton's Sphere

Sphere, the 1987 thriller, by ER writer Michael Crichton, certainly lived up to Newsweek's rave that it's a page turner.

Yep, I turned page after page and gobbled the book off in a Jiffy. But when I was done I had indigestion.

The nail biting suspense, the action, the juicy science fiction - like a Stephen Hawking lecture come alive -had me telling Angel Girl and the Little Gentleman "No I can't look now" until all 371 pages had been downed.

But afterwards I hissed my teeth- like I often do after I've stayed up late watching some crappy movie and must deal with the consequence the following day when I'm sluggish getting out of bed - and said "I could beat myself". Chruups.

I'm sorry, any novel about time travel is going to end up with all sorts of issues that can never be resolved. You can never sort them out and say yeah well that makes sense, not even in the context of the world created by the writer. And if mankind ever achieves time travel, we can't credit Crichton the way we did Verne - for Crichton has the benefit of all sorts of physicists and what not saying it is possible we just haven't figured out how to do it yet. Whereas Verne concocted a spacecraft and submarine out of his own imagination; truly avant-garde.

Then a couple of things that seemed to have significance just petered out to nothing, leaving me saying "huh?". For instance there is something that keeps gradually changing appearance, and I thought, surely this must have some bearing on the outcome of the novel, Crichton will tell me in a little while why this thing is changing and show me some connection with the action taking place. Wrong, that never happened.

Then the pschological conflict gets resolved in a way that New York Times says is "exactly the way [it] should be". Sure, it's the way it should be, but it's certainly not the way it would be; come on, which human being is going to come in possession of dizzying amounts of power and voluntarily give it up for the good of humanity? And here not one, not two, but three characters say, 'Gee, it's not good that I should have such an inordinate amount of power, let me destroy it'.

So after reading this novel, I wonder if Sphere isn't riding on the popularity of Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain and The Great Train Robbery.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Tek Kin Teet Kibba Heart Bun

Kin teet is Jamaican for laughter.

Kibba means cover.

Bun stands for burn.

When translated you get someting like 'use laughter to cover pain'.

This is by no means saying be a stoic. Not at all. We Jamaicans are open and unabashed where grief and distress are concerned. We are not ashamed to let it all out. Even on national TV. Especially on national TV.

'Tek kin teet kibba heart bun', is not a saying that intends for you to live in denial and not come head on with whatever it is that is emotionally distressing.

Instead, its just a way of saying comedy and laughter are good for soothing sorrows.

So look for comedy, create merriment, laugh nuff.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Miguel Street

"Like the great masters of the past, V.S. Naipaul tells stories which show us ourselves and the reality we live in. His use of language is as precise as it is beautiful. Simple, strong words, with which to express the humanity of all of us." David Pryce-Jones
Recently I was telling a colleague of mine that I still remember stories from Response, a collection of short stories written by such West Indian greats as Merle Hodge and Michael Anthony. That's how she came to tell me that she still remembers stories from Miguel Street, Naipaul's third work of fiction. These are books we read in grade nine, need I tell you, a long time ago. I had read stories from Miguel Street but never the whole collection, and now my curiousity was piqued.

Now reading from the perspective of an old goat who has seen and done quite a bit is somewhat different from reading as a fourteen year old on the cusp of adulthood, so Miguel Street won't be etched in my mind the way Response is.

But it is a memorable read nonetheless. It is a collection of short stories but it resembles a novel, being unified by the same narrator, same characters and the same location. So each chapter is really a biography of one or another of the flawed, stroke, ordinary people who live on Miguel Street. I say biography because although the stories are no more than ten or so pages long, and center around everyday events in the characters' lives, one still walks away with the sense of being told what drives that person's life.

I absolutely enjoyed reading the Trini dialect, and fancied that my attempt at producing the accent was authentic. The second World War as backdrop provides interesting insights into how the world scene can affect us, the little dots on the map. There is plenty from the landscape of West Indian life in general and Trinidadian life in particular, with treats from cricket, popular calypsoes at the time and much more.

"[Naipaul] just annoys me so much... I think probably the only people who'll say good things about him are Western people, right- wing people." Jamaica Kincaid
It seemed to me that most of the men in Miguel Street are dysfuntional; they beat their wives- or are beaten by their wives, or they live in some concocted version of reality, or have some sad notion of masculinity, or are puny in some way or other. Two women get a story all to themselves. One has eight children each for different men, that's the only way she could remain in control of her life, yet she regrets the path of her life for she drives her teenage daughtor who becomes pregnant to suicide (so it looks to me). The other woman runs off with a pitiful loser who beats her to a pulp before she eventually goes back to lounging on her doctor husband's lawn in her short shorts.
A condescending treatment of his own? Or the truth about people in general?
I found Miguel Street a whole lot easier to read than A House for Mr. Biswas. I never read Mimic Men but it is highly recommended by my father, so it's on my list of to read. V.S Naipaul, the author of Miguel Street and fourteen other works of fiction as well as several works of nonfiction is the 2001 Nobel laureate for literature.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Duppy know who fi frighten!

A duppy is a ghost. Sometimes we use the word to mean a stupid person, or an ugly person, but mostly we mean ghost. Duppies feature prominently in our folklore, the most famous of them being Annie Palmer the white witch of Rose Hall.

Then there is a whole legion of them that arose from the wreckage of the train crash at
Kendal in 1957. My mother tells this story of one of her cousins- and part of the story is this study in genealogy, for she digresses by habit, and she loves to trace our family tree. But anyway the cousin in question was a taxi driver in Kingston in the 1950s and he told her that one day he picked up a lady and carried her to a certain upscale address. Upon arrival the lady asked him to wait while she went inside to get the fare. He waited ten minutes and Miss Lady did not return so he honked, at which time someone came out to talk to him. Well you can imagine the rest... no body had entered the house, and the description mom's cousin gave of the woman suited someone from that house who had died in Kendal crash.

My mother has lots of duppy stories up her sleeve, even now I enjoy listening to them. My favourite ones are of the pranks she played on her scaredy cat older sister when they were children. Like the time she and Aunt Pearlie were coming from Hillsborough late one moonlight night, and mom stopped under a cotton tree (a favourite hangout spot for duppies) and started screaming in terror. Aunt Pearlie grabbed on to her and nearly went mad with fright, screaming louder and more frantically than her wicked sister. Mom had to stop the nonesense when she realized that Aunt Pearlie might squeeze the life out of her.

Just so you know, man duppy and woman duppy do not laugh the same way. Man duppy laugh 'ha-ha', and woman duppy laugh 'cre keh keng keng'. So says Ernie Smith (I believe). I wanted to find you that song, but only found this one:

If you see a menacing duppy, the way to scare the daylights out of him is to hurl a slew of expletives at him, and I don't mean the mild ones like 'dyam' or 'rahtid'. You have to give him the hard core ones like 'bumbo-rass claat' and he will flee in terror. There are easier, less profane ways of scaring a duppy; like wearing your clothes on the wrong side, or wearing red underwear.

So you see, duppies aren't all powerful, they have to choose the weak and the helpless, otherwise they might find themselves spooked out of their wits. That's why in Jamaica we say "Duppy know who fi frighten".

But when we use that saying we really aren't talking about ghosts. We are talkning about bullies or anyone who would exploit others if given the chance, such as in the case of a supervisor intimidating an employee who doesn't know his rights, an onlooker might say "duppy really know who if frighten, eenh?"