‘There is a way to be cruel that seems Jamaican to me.’
Tenderness and cruelty, loyalty and betrayal, ambition and regret – Alexia Arthurs navigates these tensions to extraordinary effect in her debut collection about Jamaican immigrants and their families back home. Sweeping from close-knit island communities to the streets of New York City and Midwestern university towns, these eleven stories form a portrait of a nation, a people, and a way of life.
In ‘Light Skinned Girls and Kelly Rowlands’, an NYU student befriends a fellow Jamaican whose privileged West Coast upbringing has blinded her to the hard realities of race. In ‘Mash Up Love’, a twin’s chance sighting of his estranged brother – the prodigal son of the family – stirs up unresolved feelings of resentment. In ‘Bad Behavior’, a mother and father leave their wild teenage daughter with her grandmother in Jamaica, hoping the old ways will straighten her out. In ‘Mermaid River’, a Jamaican teenage boy is reunited with his mother in New York after eight years apart. In ‘The Ghost of Jia Yi’, a recently murdered international student haunts a despairing Jamaican athlete recruited to an Iowa college. And in ‘Shirley from a Small Place’, a world-famous pop star retreats to her mother’s big new house in Jamaica, which still holds the power to restore something vital.
The winner of the Paris Review’s Plimpton Prize for ‘Bad Behavior’, Alexia Arthurs emerges in this vibrant, lyrical, intimate collection as one of fiction’s most dynamic and essential young authors.
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