This exceptional collection of twenty-two richly-observed, richly-atmospheric Caribbean-set short stories stirs the spirit as it provokes thought.
All twenty-two of the short stories included in Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw’s stunning Caribbean-set Stick No Bills are rich in atmosphere and thought-provoking observational detail. Cutting to the core of their characters’ states and situations, lingering long, and possessing the power of a Siren’s call to draw readers back for multiple readings, these stories are masterworks of the form.
Vibrant with humanity and emotional ambiguities and truths, each story is a finely drawn vignette. The author’s characterisation is first-class; her painterly observations and details of place and psychological states profoundly affecting. Take 'Killing Time', for example, in which a young Trinidadian woman coins the term “lostfulness” to describe her uncertain state of being and relinquishes her dream of becoming a writer - the ending made my heart flip.
Some of the stories are only a few paragraphs long, and yet these too bear tremendous power. 82, for example, unpacks an entire existence in its chain of 82 words. In these shortest pieces, Walcott-Hackshaw conveys the feeling of existing within particular moments with brilliant dynamism - fleeting flashes of thought, or poignant reflection, or anticipation of what will come next. The eponymous story, 'Stick No Bills', is an exquisite example of this, capturing as it does the cycle of life and motherhood as a woman ponders the imminent departures of her daughter and mother with heart-aching precision, and all prompted by observing a “stick no bills” notice on an ice factory she first saw during her childhood.
While the stories exude multiple moods, together they form an exquisite whole, united by finely-threaded themes of family, loss, the passing of time, ponderings on the past, and possible futures.
In the opening story, sharply observed details of a walk through a St Lucian coastal town to an ageing uncle’s house, chance encounters that trigger memories, a cell-phone call from home in Trinidad, the way an incident – like refusing a lift on the way to the house – becomes part of the enlivening narrative of the day, all cover with the myriad details of pulsing life what is really a story about mourning the death of the character’s mother. In this, and a sequence of stories that chart the playful delights of childhood family holidays with uncles, aunts and cousins and the break-up of those connections through deaths and the passage of time, there is a fine balance between recording the feelings of desolation and the pleasures of reconstructing the joys of the past through art and memory.
As well as the stories written as “I” and “she”, Stick No Bills confirms Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw’s lethal talent for inventing characters – like the journalist who has been pursuing a famous writer at a literary conference in Haiti, or the would-be writer who is finding a workshop less than rewarding – who have only a partial awareness of their ability to deceive themselves, or see the painful humour of their situations.
The collection, through its organisation of individual stories into an artfully constructed whole, offers a richly consoling passage through griefs of various kinds towards a sense of continuance and human resilience.
|Publication date:||29th October 2020|
|Publisher:||Peepal Tree Press Ltd|
|Collections:||30+ Unforgettable Books by Caribbean Writers - Book-aneers of the Caribbean, 80+ Must-read Novels by Black Writers - Black Lit Matters, 50+ Beautifully Written Books,|
|Primary Genre||Modern and Contemporary Fiction|
Closing date: 07/10/2021