Set along the noir genre of literary fictional writing where the protagonist is a victim, a perpetrator, or a suspect, this 18 short-story compilation of insightful, entertaining, and riveting narratives encompass the lives of men and women as they socialize and form relationships. The authors contributing to this noir genre read like a who is who of Caribbean literature. The stories each capture the quintessential nature of Indo, Afro, Chinese, and Syrian Trinidadian women, British women and even one lone girl from India. The older Indo, Afro and Chinese Trinidadian women are typified in the relationships of: (a) the aunt in the introductory story by Allen Agostini; (b) the repressed sexuality of the sisters Hemrajee and Feroza (Baldeosingh); (c) Mathilda, Isabella, and the other women with whom Mathilda’s husband committed adultery (Mootoo); (d) Kwae’s and Vish’s mother (Manickchand); (e) the maid (Espinet); (f) Nicola the Syrian, devout Catholic wife (Chen); (g) May, her mother and her mother-in-law (Lee Loy); (h) Savi and the ageless Chinese woman Carmella (Scott); (i) Petal the Matriarch and Aunt Kirti (Capildeo); (j) Marlon’s and Effie’s mothers (Theodore); and Gita’s and Leslie’s mothers (Yanique).
Older Indo-Trinidadian Women
Hemrajee and Feroza are the stereotypical Indo-Trinidadian women who are sexually and otherwise repressed. They do not drink, they do not have much of a social life and they are certainly not promiscuous. Feroza is the more experienced and worldly of the two and buys a sexual toy for her sister for her 30th birthday. At first, flabbergasted, Hemrajee learns its benefits beyond the use of her hands. The mere use of a sexual toy among Indo-Trinidadian women of that era is another taboo upon which this story by Baldeosingh touches.
Mootoo’s portrayal of the upper crust Indo-Trinidadian women vying for the male’s attention even if he is married, shows how easily these women allow themselves to be mesmerized by this one charismatic and magnetic man. We know more about his wife than we do about him. He appears more like an unreal male working hard and playing hard, disrespecting the other women with whom he has been as well as his wife. At his funeral, the truth comes out and each woman can be seen wearing a gift of jewelry he has given them as if, like an animal, he were marking his territory. Mathilda refuses to divorce her husband instead deciding to stay with him as punishment and spend his money in a lavish party. In the end, Mathilda gets the final laugh as all his women appear at his funeral and realized that they have all been with him and they started fighting.
Petal the Matriarch and Aunt Kirti are similar to Mathilda as they have all the external trappings of wealth acquired. Aunt Kirti is reputed to have had plastic surgery whilst, Petal the Matriarch is left to tend to her son’s children because of neglect from his foreign wife. Petal is never mentioned without the Matriarch next to her name giving her a sense of power, respect, and foreboding. Petal is convinced that her daughter –in-law has a very good life and should be thankful instead of wallowing in self-pity and drinking herself into a stupor. Both Petal and Kirti appear to be very hard-nosed, old-fashioned Indo-Trinidadian women who are emotionally starved but have all the trappings of external wealth.
Older Afro Trinidadian Women
Zora is presented as a woman who sells snacks to make a living in Toco. She is seen as part of the driving force of the men and helps them to discard of the marijuana in the sweetbread she makes. Eventually, she uses the car belonging to the dead brothers to transport her goods to Toco.
Marlon is a young African male who is involved in the underworld. His mother is oblivious to his underground connections and creates a seemingly normal environment as the provider and nurturer. When he is killed by a drive by shooting, she screams the hackneyed verbatim, of all mothers of sons killed for their connection to the underground, “He was a good boy.” Mocking the very nature of what good stands for and suggesting a level of denial that typifies the women in these 18 short stories.
Other women in these narratives epitomized the younger generation in 2008: (a) Tasha the materialistic girlfriend (Allen-Agostini); (b) Meera Meera, the lesbian who lived the female version of her father’s promiscuous life (Mootoo); (c) the nondescript girls on St. Vincent St. (Manickchand); (d) Geeta (Espinet); (e) the narrator who has two men and a lesbian relationship (Bartels); (f) Jackie Sealy, the smart, young educated lawyer (Scott); (g) Miss Ramsol and Miss Samlalsingh (Antoni); (h) Mary (Maloney); (i) Cara, the abused wife (Extavour); (j) Lucille and Suzette Smart, and the narrator (Nunez); Maureen, the British woman, Ambika and Cheryl, the foreign-educated women (Capildeo); (k) Maggie and Effie, the Murray Street prostitutes (Theodore); (l) Leslie, the student from Leeds and Gita the student from India via Canada (Yanique).
These women represent the stereotypical characters in quotidian Trinidadian life who intermingle and commingle. Mahabir (2009) in her review of this book stated:
Although the scholarship on Indo-Caribbean women is a recent development in the field of Caribbean literature, there are today numerous studies explaining how negative representations of women of color have supported and perpetuated their oppression and exploitation during the colonial as well as postcolonial period. (p. 1)
To state that these women are negatively represented is an understatement. Each one of these women is seen as a sufferer. Their weaknesses magnified in accordance with the noir genre. These women move from their materialistic desire for wealth and brand name items, to repressed sexual desires in the older women. The younger women exude insatiable sexual desires and are seen as semi-literate. Mootoo and Capildeo presented the issues associated with Indo-Trinidadian women in the upper echelons of society and belonging to the older generation. The book’s cover sets the tone for the images of women evidenced throughout each story as a thread connecting them to the noir genre. Flora and fauna imagery is implemented throughout as a form of pathetic fallacy. Mootoo and Capildeo use the snake imagery to effectively express the dilemma faced with their main protagonists.
Indo-Trinidadian Younger Women
Indo-Trinidadian women are exemplified as repressed in the older generation and as if to compensate for such repression, the younger generation is seen as sexually insatiable in Geeta, Miss Ramsol, and Meera Meera. Geeta is the archetypal heroine who is at loggerheads with her nature and her nurture, contemplating every Indo-Trinidadian females’ questions, how can she successfully have a relationship with someone of a different race? We never get a true sense of what defines Geeta, who she is what she sees for herself but her sexual appetite is insatiable as she spends her days with Micah in pleasurable honeymoon style.
Miss Ramsol as she is referred to throughout the story does not even deserve a first name but we know so much about her lack of education and her insatiable appetite for sex as well as her lack of hygiene wearing the same dental floss underwear. Her emails leave much to be desired always ending with the much proffered, “ps see you round pelos at 9” (p. 204). Antoni mocks the fact that there is a semi-literate young woman in charge of the Trinidad and Tobago archives. She uses her body and her position as a means of eventually gaining a husband by force. In these series of emails, Antoni captures the essentially lower class young Indo-Trinidadian woman who is placed in a position of authority for which she is not equipped but she takes her jobs as seriously as she can until she realizes that it will cost her the sexual relationship. He also captures the sexual promiscuity which authors such as Allen-Agostini, Baldeosingh, Mootoo, Capildeo, and Theodore depicted.
Meera Meera evolved into the female version of her father where she sees three women at the same time. She enjoys and revels in overpowering her lover as had her father. In this portrayal of Meera Meera and her lesbianism, Mootoo treats one of the taboos of Caribbean society. Lesbianism and Homosexuality were discussed in hushed tones at the time this book was written.
Afro-Trinidadian Younger Women
The Afro-Trinidadian women discussed are Tasha, Cara, Lucille Smart and the narrator, Effie and Maggie, and the I narrator who is never identified. Tasha is introduced to the readers as:
She always left him, wandering off like a cat without provocation or explanation, returning just as suddenly and without comment after a day or a week or month. ……..One day she just didn’t come back” (p. 1). We are told that he can see her from next door as she hangs clothing on the line. She is wearing a new short pants and a description of her sexual anatomy ensues. Women, throughout these stories are seen and described as objects rather than persons with character and fortitude. Tasha is killed in the end when she is found trying to steal from her ex-male friend. She is buried in the backyard and we are told, “And in Zora’s backyard, a new bed of ixora bloomed unusually well that year” (p. 38). She, like the other women in these stories, is viewed as fickle, materialistic, gullible, and submissive. She admires herself in the mirror and her two hundred dollar pedicure.
Cara is an example of a woman who is physically abused by her husband and finally killed by him after she has divorced him. She spent 10 years of her life catering to his needs and stoking his ego only to be beaten on Friday after he has been out drinking. She pays for this with her life as she naively believes that he has suffered a heart attack and lets her empathetic nature get the better of her.
Lucille Smart is paradoxically and predictably not Smart and in a blended family. She cannot live up to the expectations of her name, her step-siblings, and her father. She blossoms into an attractive and shapely young woman who eventually has an unwanted pregnancy and is squirreled abroad to stay with extended family. Her fate already designed from the day she was born; darker and less intelligent than her father’s first set of children.
Effie is born to a prostitute mother who becomes pregnant and pimps her out to her customers. Effie confides in Maggie, another prostitute, who then becomes her mentor. However, Effie steals from her clients to Maggie’s chagrin and is afraid to go home with her spoils since her mother steals from her. The vicious cycle is clearly evidenced here where Effie’s mother prostitutes in an area in close proximity to where Effie prostitutes. The cycle of lower-class learned helplessness and generational poverty are perpetuated and shows a level of nihilism.
The “I” narrator has two men and a lesbian lover. She lives with someone, she sees another occasionally, and also has lesbian lover. Her appetite for sex is insatiable and she believes that she is independent and strong. In the end, she realizes that she has been a puppet to her lesbian lover who orchestrated the situations with her other two lovers. Her live in lover is murdered by her two other lovers for becoming too greedy and wanting her all to himself. He feels like a possession and devoid of love. Her independence is really an acute dependency on her lovers who capitalize on her co-dependency.
Chinese Trinidadian Women
May steals her mother-in-law’s valuables when she is ill and takes care of her. This materialistic side of her sets the background for her main character trait in this story. May is viewed as the Chinese woman who, after her husband dies, ill-treats her daughter, gives her little to eat and looks for a new man. This new man is catered to whenever he comes to visit on Fridays. She lies in wait for Fridays, not cooking, cleaning or tending to any household chores until he is due to arrive. She only equates her sense of self with having a man and catering to a man. Her presence is only felt when he is around. His absence results in her becoming an empty shell. Her daughter remembers May’s mother vaguely selling Chinese products in a shop in the countryside. The Chinese woman in this story is not shown in a positive light and is seen to be an extension of the current male in her life.
When one of the protagonist visited Maracas Beach she opined, “No vanload of country coolies, with Auntie, Uncle, beti, and fine-fine pickney hiding to eat curry and roti” (Kempado, p. 142). With that is the indelible imprint of racial undertones found in some of the stories as well as the whole concept of “blanchir la race noire” as indicated by Fannon. Other underlying themes are around the concept of douglarisation and mixed women, foreign-educated Trinidadian women, the element of sexuality of the society and the pervasive nature of the Trinidadian society. Women in these stories are seen as products rather than producers of society. Gita, the Indian born student, expresses her discomfort with the closeness of the gyrations in the dance movements. The mother/daughter dyad is presented. The women, albeit, presented as caring, easily deceived individuals, contain an element of ghostlike representation of real women. The reader gets but a snippet of their personalities which somehow are surpressed to a higher level of understanding as to how they need to behave in order to survive. This collection begs the questions “Is woman really boss or is she part of this dynamic that sets out predefined mages of race, gender, ethnicity, color, class structure, behaviors, norms, and values? Are women bosses at moving to the rhythmic societal dictates of orthodox formalities foisted on them from birth? Are they existentially trapped from the womb to the pyre to a lifetime of insipid acquiescing to the prescriptive and descriptive social roles?