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Saturday 24 March 2018

Masterful writing by Scott

I wish I could find a way to write a review of a Lawrence Scott book that really does justice to his masterful writing.

What leaves me most awestruck is Scott’s control as a writer. Scott creates vivid settings and complex characters that appear to be deceptively simple, but there are layers to discover in his characters. He doesn’t overwrite. He doesn’t insult the intelligence of readers by explaining his stories. Instead, Scott follows the cardinal rule of memorable writing: show don’t tell.

Scott’s latest fiction, Leaving by Plane Swimming Back Underwater and Other Stories proves that Scott is equally comfortable and gifted in writing both novels and short stories. Each story exposes another side of his finely nuanced characters, who are enhanced by the setting that defines them.

In A Something Little a chance encounter between two Trinidadians in London forces both men to reminisce about their lives in Trinidad when they hear a Trini twang in each other’s voice. They peal back the layers of their lives in a most superficial way, sounding more like tourists putting together a travelogue than men who really lived in such a place.

Like a verbal stick fight, they feel each other out and doubt each other’s knowledge. Their discomfort is palpable; their place in time is certain. They are really caught between two places, never totally shedding their West Indian roots, but no longer connecting to their past.

Scott’s characters are not stereotypic Trinis hiding behind bravado. Their pain and insecurities surface, but characters never become maudlin. They always possess a haunting familiarity reminding us of someone we know while evoking some buried feeling within ourselves. Many stories dissect nostalgia so that it becomes something painfully real rather than emotional gloss.

When a white West Indian comes back to Trinidad, In A Dog is Buried no explanation is necessary to capture the nostalgia that must have been packed for the trip. What he finds is a dead, decaying dog someone has dumped on his property. The black taxi driver who drops him home helps him bury the dog, but Christian de la Borde can’t bury the memories triggered by the incident.

Tales Told Under the San Fernando Bridge experiments with form, creating nine, short chapters that capture the religious overtones of life weaved together inside and outside of church so that they ring true to life.

Many of the stories have religious overtones. One of my favourite stories is The Archbishop’s Egg for its humorous commentary on Trinidad society that lacks the pointed bitterness of satire. Archbishop Sorzano is a man who believes in miracles or is he a scamp trying to make money from religion like so many other other people in this age of technology. He sees miracles everywhere, and he is willing to conjure them up if necessary.

There is something likable about Archbishop Sorzano. Probably its his ability to believe in good even in the face of a troubled country. He’s more hopeful and optimistic than na?ve, and he believes if other countries can have miracles, why can’t we? There’s much to ponder about faith, miracles and deception in this story.

Each story in this collection captures a turning point in life. A 1930’s Tale: Coco’s Last Christmas features the vivid memories of Theophilus, a boy about to leave the vibrant countryside for a dull life working in town because he has been told he can no longer fit into school.

Lawrence’s imagery is often haunting. It is impossible to forget the corbeaux looming over the neighbourhood in the short, haunting story of seven-year-old Lindy who leaves home for an errand in Incident on Rosary Street.

The defining story of this anthology is the young man in Leaving by Plane Swimming Back Underwater, who flies to England to give his life to God. Like all trips, this one is filled with hope and excitement, but distance has a way of making everyone question what has been lost.

My favourite story is Penalty of Death, a touching story that captures the complex problem of crime and punishment in Trinidad by juxtaposing the feelings of a poor housekeeper and the judge who condemns a man to die.

Together, these stories – vivid in description and setting; rich in character development — probe boundaries and the meaning of life complicated by changing cultures and returning home after years in a foreign land. They gently nudge us to question our beliefs in ourselves, our roots, and the cultures that collide in our lives. They are stories about what it means to have faith.


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