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March-April 2011

Book Review: By Love Possessed by Lorna Goodison

Emily LandauWebsite

Lorna Goodison's latest collection of short fiction, By Love Possessed.Lorna Goodison’s latest collection of short stories, By Love Possessed, fuses a sharp ear for language with a keen eye for human behaviour. The Jamaican-Canadian poet, memoirist, and short story writer casts a shrewd yet loving gaze on the mores and idiosyncrasies of contemporary Jamaican society. At first glance, Goodison’s world plays into North American perceptions of the Caribbean. The landscape of her prose is fragrant and fecund, marked by exotic underpinnings of the Western gaze: people laze beneath poinciana and divi-divi trees, and white sands meet the lips of blue seas.

But Goodison surprises her readers, delving beneath this facade into the uncomfortable struggles of everyday life on the island, from class divisions to unjust gender relations. Young boys selling flowers dream of driving off in limousines to escape abusive home lives, while darker-skinned Jamaicans work as domestic helpers for the “brown” or fair-skinned upper class. A wife is shunned by her husband after she returns from a trip to New York, clad in flashier clothes and decidedly more confident, while a strong businesswoman encounters a married former lover who simultaneously worships and disrespects her when he invites her to be his mistress.

The collection’s most striking element is Goodison’s use of language. Unlike the works of Zora Neale Hurston or Joel Chandler Harris, whose uses of dialect are jarring and broad, Goodison employs it subtly—a change of syntax here, an idiom there. But while her dialect is minimal, it is nonetheless immersive, enveloping the reader in the joys and injustices of her native land.

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