- Paperback: 168 pages
- Publisher: Peepal Tree Press Ltd. (Dec 1 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1845231880
- ISBN-13: 978-1845231880
- Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 1.3 x 20.3 cm
- Shipping Weight: 181 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,484,423 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Near Open Water: Stories Paperback – Nov 25 2011
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About the Author
Keith Jardim is an assistant professor of English literature and creative writing at Gulf University for Science and Technology in Kuwait. His stories have appeared in numerous publications, including the Denver Quarterly, the Journal of Caribbean Literatures, Tell Tales 4: The Global Village, and Trinidad & Tobago Review.
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Yet the unspoken nuance conveys the most feeling.
We open with "In the Atlantic Field", a dark tale of a boy and his mother on a car journey. They stop at a petrol station by the sea. Two vaguely menacing men attend the station. Mom makes a telephone call; the boy wanders off and explores the beach. He is eventually summoned to return by one of the men. He climbs into the car as his silent, grim mother drives away. Tension mounts, questions are asked, fear grows as the mother remonstrates with the boy...
This chilling tale rather sets the tone for the others, all skillfully imbued with a low buzzing, an inaudible, but ever-present, sense of menace. In some cases, like the third story, "The Visitors", the menace becomes explicit.
"The White People Maid" is the story of an observant black woman employed by an affluent, presumptuous, racist and condescending white woman - clearly a legacy of colonialism. The woman's equally offensive daughter lives down the way. The story is reminiscent of the film The Help in which "the servants" are treated with callous contempt, accused of stealing, scheming, pandering and general dishonesty. The denouement is not particularly surprising, but gratifying just the same, although a reader almost wishes that it might have been more explicit.
Much goes unsaid in these stories; much is left to the imagination; much is suggested, hinted, implied. That suggests the ultimate fates of the characters are as wide open as there are readers to imagine them, but it also suggests that Mr Jardim has liberated his audience, preserving, nay, encouraging, the widest possible freedom of choice. Similarly, however, it is frustrating because a reader must think, and, in the end, can only speculate.
"In the Cage" is quick, probably 1,000 words on a page-and-a-half. A couple visiting the local zoo has a hurried -- and clothed -- sexual encounter in front of a jaguar cage. Three parties participate, the animal being the third. In the end -- and perhaps the point -- it is difficult to distinguish who among the principals is the greater "brute", the more "animal" of the three. All of them are rather detached from the act, observing clinically the events unfolding around them.
In "Caribbean Honeymoon", a sex-obsessed, if middle-class couple, take a ferry from Trinidad to elsewhere (not important, except that their friend Glen awaits), contemplating possible sexual encounters for the woman with a small array of fellow passengers. The husband is almost pushy about finding a partner for his wife, who herself ponders and rejects a couple of candidates, finally accepting one for the duration of the boat trip. The encounter, we learn, is only the latest among a longstanding series of affairs, although, surprisingly for the reader, not a source of income. The couple is engaged in that most bourgeois of pursuits: Saving money to purchase a home, dedicating their drug-running revenues to the effort.
The emotional strain of the arrangement on the couple is subtly played out, but otherwise the two are entirely matter-of-fact, entirely practical, about their endeavours, lending the tale an odd, slightly disorienting effect - compelling the reader to review the story as it unfolds, ensuring he has not misunderstood or misinterpreted the events. The Caribbean can be a strange and destructive place.
"Fire in the City" may be the most colourful of the stories, following (like "The White People Maid", in dialect) the careers of narrator Nello, his co-worker at a home for troubled youth Mervyn, and his hustler former-friend Aucks. The story describes how Nello, a car thief, worked for Aucks, an obnoxious and would-be "big man around town" until both were arrested after a liquor-laden incident in a local bar and a subsequent high-speed joy ride with a woman who ultimately abandons Nello.
Saved from a prison sentence by a Catholic charity, Nello finds himself working as a sort of "house parent" at the church-run home alongside Mervyn, increasingly enfeebled, slowly dying from disease, and throwing Nello's future into question. The story turns on the shaky political and economic prognosis for both the Catholic charity and Trinidad, leaving our aging protagonist with a deeply uncertain future, his refuge in a bottle of rum.
"The Jaguar" rises to meet the reader. The story is an old, reliable friend, having appeared previously, but no less welcome for a second chance to encounter individuals' varying attitudes to freedom.
A Trinidadian man, initially a tour guide for a young, pretty BBC reporter, but now her lover, seeks to navigate the delicate waters of her investigative prying into a top-level politician's almost-certain drug trafficking, and his own instincts for her and his preservation. The threat of mortal violence looms ominously in the background as he tries to get both himself and his lover through her final 48 hours before departing the island, facing his own decision whether to accompany her or not.
We meet the slightly ditzy, but delightful, Edric Traboulay, who regales the couple with his reflections on British colonialism and his own efforts toward self-liberation, and then we meet, caged on a hilltop, our title character. Again, the menace underlying the story remains implicit, if plain, while our protagonist is increasingly torn, confronted with a choice between a profoundly corrupt, if comfortable career running his father's trafficking business or a new life elsewhere with his BBC inamorata.
In an unorthodox move, however, the narrative switches to the point of view of the jaguar, longing for release as much as any of the human characters, and offers a third path. No questions are answered, but the questions, underlined by our feline friend, are starkly posed.
"Night Rain", a brief, two-page, sojourn paints a picture of hushed, if fleeting, respite from the ugly menace of trafficking narcotics in Trinidad, although, like much else in the book, it is never made explicit. A picturesque, buffeting, late-night jungle rain provides a sort of envelope of protection and reassurance, at least until dawn.
And, finally, the title "track" as it were: "Near Open Water" provides the culmination to this literary album. The story starts innocently enough: A writer embraces the solitude and quiet beauty of his cousin's seaside retreat, nestled on a hillside under tall, leafy trees. A small dock offers commuter access.
Cousin and family are away while the author spends his days at his desk, writing. Slowly, however, things seem to go awry, in small, almost negligible ways at first, but then, increasingly, in larger, more threatening fashion. A motor yacht passes by more than once, seeking something unnamed, un-described; drifting, testing the waters as if examining the surroundings; searching, purposeful.
The house, the writer realises, is perhaps not quite as concealed, quite as anonymous, as he had imagined.
With that, fear starts to gnaw. Still, lurking in the background, lingers the hope that this might all be simple paranoia, an overblown concern for passing, likely coincidental, phenomena. The reader, like our writer/narrator, clings to a receding hope as the story grows and looms ever larger, layer upon layer, as it becomes apparent that the writer, for all his innocence, does indeed have something to fear. His absent cousin, we discover, is guilty of offenses neither named nor described, although likely related (again) to drug trafficking.
Eventually, the boat, snooping around the dock for days, discharges some of its occupants, armed men who may or may not be Trinidad security forces -- or possibly private contractors seeking recompense for a debt...
"Near Open Water" is written with a sensitive, articulate sense of place, descriptive of lush tropical surroundings and human frailty. The humidity is almost palpable while the sense of a deeply troubled society, steeped in fear, near-despair and fatalism is inescapable. The stories might profit were they a little more explicit about some of the events and human motives that drive them, but that is a small complaint. Some things are better left to the imagination -- and "Near Open Water" (both the story and the collection itself) is a rich exercise in that, exploring consequences of sins old and new, systemic injustices and even episodic attempts to make things right.