The Elegance of a Voice

Anton Nimblett, Sections of an Orange (Leeds, UK: Peepal Tree, 2009); 150 pages; ISBN 978-1845230746 (paper).

• June 2011

The fleshy, ribbed sections of an orange, one which leaves traces of its essence in the corners of your nails, along the side of your arm lifted to that first trembling sensation on your tongue, is the corporeal map upon which Trinidadian (à la Brooklyn, New York) writer Anton Nimblett elicits his eleven short stories. Readers are invited to the process, from peel to final seed, as they venture through the textured and nuanced imaginings of Nimblett’s diasporic narratives of the Trinidadian immigrant between the United States and home. This collection is a broad example of one of the freshest Caribbean voices to have emerged in the twenty-first century. Nimblett, at ease with his superb writing voice, pays homage to writers such as M. Nourbese Phillip, Dionne Brand, and Elizabeth Nunez by refusing to give way to the hand that insists on silencing things that should never be spoken in the cultural parlance of a respectable Caribbean sensibility. His contemporaries have bravely broached the topics of incest, rape, child abuse, and unspoken love and sexual desire; so too does Nimblett in his stellar renderings of men loving men and women loving men. This collection is a testimony to the spirit of the Caribbean diaspora, to those who, in their trials of loving, learning, and migrating, manifest dreams and lay down their suffering at the feet of new identities.

Nimblett’s elegance as a writer is his ability to capture the essence of a voice—from a Trini lilt to a Brooklyn drawl—in the same ways that Zora Neale Hurston etched forever the voices of folks from Eatonville in Their Eyes Were Watching God. “Visiting Soldiers” unveils the suffering of a Brooklyn-based Caribbean mother who has lost her son to the war; she carries his ashes in an urn as a daily mantra of disbelief that he is gone. Nimblett allows redemption in the dignity of this mother through her consistent need to find answers and ultimately guide the youth toward options other than war. “Into my Parlour” invites the reader to be a fly on the wall, leaning in to hear the interactions between two older Caribbean women with an extraordinary amount of “brought-upsy,” whose expectations of each other’s friendship develops slowly over time. The subtle tensions about the nephew who is “away” yet unmarried hint at the prevailing homophobic narratives that emerge in many African/diasporic communities. “On the Side” teaches the reader that unfaithfulness has negative repercussions—love between two men turn devastating after a car crash, reckless behavior fueled by the forbidden nature of their relationship. “Time and Tide” is a healing journey home to Trinidad, after the main character from “On the Side” considers his actions. Nimblett’s onslaught of visual imagery, smells, and sounds of Trinidad compliment the idea of going “home,” and he captures the nostalgia of being able to return and be claimed. It is in that space of peace that we find the profound intimacy of two old friends meeting after twenty years and sharing the radical possibility of a nonsexual yet highly intimate friendship between two men who have both experienced real love in their lives. There are no judgments in the old time “lime” or hanging out, as memories are shared and the beauty of the men is crystallized in the spaces of silence in their conversation. Both get to affirm the lives they have chosen to live, each a bit stronger. “Just Now” slides into the perspective of Glen, a character from “Time and Tide,” as he meets his future wife for the first time. Glen gets his truck stuck in the mud on the way to a construction job, only to encounter the lovely Cecilia Mendoza. Outlined with the nuances of Caribbean cultural practice and the timeless art of flirting, Glen and Cecilia form a match of the heart in their brief meeting. The reader also gets to glimpse Glen’s family members as they are teased out in the various stories, complexly layered like sections of an orange. His mother, Marjory, is the center of “Marjory’s Meal,” in which Old Man, Glen’s father, has reconciled that his most important task is to prepare the final meal for his dying wife. The ingredients: two blue crabs, two cups coconut milk, one roasted and crushed pumpkin, two pumpkin blossoms, one lime, lime buds, one dried orange peel, cinnamon sticks, salt, and brown sugar, mixed with the aching hand of love, pleasure, and pain; a marriage of almost forty years—a lifetime—culminates in a meal to say goodbye. The immeasurable grace of this love is as delicate as the lives of Old Man and Marjory. Nimblett is able to render onto the page an ageless wisdom about the fragility of the heart.

“How Far, How Long” finds the reader in the middle of Ray’s dilemma over his relationship with his lover, Julian, and his desire for his homeboy, Ezra. After a weekend with Julian, Ray impulsively has a sexy, sweaty interlude with Ezra that leaves him spinning with indecision. Nimblett’s interjections into the world of black gay men are sensuous, classy, and ripe with beauty. The namesake story, “Sections of an Orange,” presents an erotic tale of male camaraderie, art, and risk-taking in physical encounters that lend themselves to the world of the heart. In “Ring Games,” Brian, a character from “Sections,” is found in a jewelry heist gone wrong, as questions form about how far one will go in the name of desire. The story revolves around the tension of a black man in an exclusive jewelry store whose presence has to be renegotiated in this era of hip-hop wealth and its proclivity for “bling.” All the unsaid ideas around race, black manhood, and criminality burst to the surface of this story. Next, “Mr. Parker’s Behaviour,” an intriguing interlude before the final story, takes the reader back to Trinidad to the home of Mr. Parker and his housekeeper, Agatha. As Mr. Parker’s longtime employee, Agatha has been the loyal servant, and the two have grown old and alone together. Then Mr. Parker’s behavior radically changes, and Agatha is forced to reconsider the arrangement of her world; in the blink of an eye, all that she considered constant is sharply pulled from under her feet. In the search to put the pieces together, Agatha gains a sense of agency that she never imagined for herself.

Nimblett’s collection is rounded out with “One, Two, Three—Push,” depicting the evolution of Push, a black man on the verge of a metamorphosis, fighting to shed the personalities that others insist he wear to suit their needs. As he finds his own skin, Push’s true voice also emerges.

Anton Nimblett’s contribution to the pantheon of Caribbean literature is a mixture of graceful lyricism, raw sensuality, and dignified nuances of real living, packaged tightly within the taunt skin of the Caribbean experience in the West. His voice is a necessary compliment to those who have come before him and he stands firmly among his peers.

 

Natasha Gordon-Chipembere holds a PhD in English from the University of South Africa. Her edited collection Representation and Black Womanhood: The Legacy of Sarah Baartman will be published by Palgrave MacMillan in August 2011. She has a number of academic publications, including articles in scrutiny 2, Agenda, and Changing English. She was a Fulbright Specialist at Chancellor College, University of Malawi, in summer 2010. Her current work includes a life history project with Malawian activist Catherine Chipembere and a book on Afro–Costa Ricans. She is an assistant professor of English at Medgar Evers College CUNY in Brooklyn, New York.

 

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