Blessings and Curses: The Poesis of Queer Caribbean and Diaspora Living

June 2021

H. Nigel Thomas, Easily Fooled (Toronto: Guernica Editions, 2021); 293 pages; ISBN 978-1771835817 (paperback)

Easily Fooled is the third installment in H. Nigel Thomas’s planned quartet of narratives on the trials and tribulations of queer West Indian lives. The first two books, No Safeguards (2015) and Fate’s Instruments (2018), also from Guernica Editions, chart the exploits and misadventures of Jay and Paul, the queer Vincentian brother duo who eventually migrate to Montreal, Canada. In Easily Fooled Thomas gives voice to yet another perspective: that of Jay’s husband, Millington Samuels. Readers follow Millington as he navigates his less-than-ideal relationship (sexual and otherwise) with Jay, while averting constant and unwanted insights about his personal life from the few humans in his immediate circle, including his brother-in-law, Paul, who is a major source of veiled criticism.

Poiesis is one crucial way of thinking not only about the work of Thomas’s text but also about the narrative of Easily Fooled’s central figure. This is a novel about birthing new realities while overcoming old ones. The book opens at a pivotal moment in Millington’s transition from the Caribbean to North America: his permanent residency application, through his marriage to Jay, is approved by Citizenship and Immigration Canada. He now has status. And with this newly minted immigration status comes a litany of pressing concerns about simultaneously belonging to multiple geopolitical spaces. Millington’s journey from non-Canadian status to permanent resident is a testament to how barriers are constructed and reinforced even after one has officially landed or arrived to a new place. To arrive at the place of Canadian legal status is to also bring into question one’s status elsewhere. This unsettling negotiation is particularly evident in Millington’s tale, wherein his status as a respected church leader in Barbados and as a model scholar and son in St. Vincent are further destabilized by his latest assigned status in North America. “People do what they must to blend in” (6), the narrator tells us, and so Millington must seek out new ways to maintain control of his present life in Canada and his past life in the Caribbean.

Status is a basic form of cultural currency in Easily Fooled. How one accumulates this currency is determined by a person’s ability to acclimatize to the rules and norms that dictate the unique spaces, societies, or communities they occupy. Thomas’s use of detailed and strategically placed flashbacks offers readers acute insights into just how this cultural currency is accrued in three distinct geographic locations: Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and French Canada. These flashbacks do more than simply tell a story. Such an approach by the author, intentional or not, lends itself as testament to the nonlinear and messy work of self-determination and self-discovery. Life rarely plays out in a straight line, especially for queer West Indians whose lifelines repeatedly, and often forcibly, deviate from the prescribed straight and narrow because of the power and influence of state institutions.

Thomas crafts a novel that demands that readers reconsider just how West Indian cultural currency is determined and legitimized by local and state authority. The “ne’er-do-wells” (72) on the Anglican church patio, a group of men wanton in their everyday harassment of others on the street, are but one defining local authority who contribute to how Millington and other residents accumulate and deploy their currency or status as self-worth. Like the ne’er-do-wells, the church is a mainstay institution that wields power over the trajectory of daily Caribbean and diaspora lives. From Millington’s mother, Mem, with her constant reliance on religious doctrine in determining a person’s intrinsic value, to his friend Gladys and her husband, Horton, in Barbados, who struggle to embody and reflect the perfectly heteronormative, monogamous Christian marriage, to Millington’s insufferable tutor-hypocrites at theological college “disseminating their beliefs [as] their livelihood” (204), the church remains an unnatural institution that preoccupies itself with the management of human currency. The everyday West Indian’s deepest desires and fears are transformed into legal tender by those in positions of religious authority. Thomas unapologetically examines the predatory practices on which many Caribbean and diaspora religious marketplaces operate. This is timely work that holds monumental institutions like the church accountable for the cantankerously meaningful roles they occupy in daily West Indian and diaspora living. The labor of reflecting on the perils of Caribbean Christian life is a commitment and pedagogy that extends beyond Thomas’s intervention in Easily Fooled and can be traced as far back as the work of his first novel, Spirits in the Dark.1

Complex questions regarding the queerness of one’s status emerge in Easily Fooled. These questions take us beyond a focus on sexuality as the dominant or singular attribute of queerness in the archipelago. The novel attends to how one’s immigrant status dictates how Caribbean peoples might be queered in diaspora. This discursive shift revises an unproductive binary that feeds into limited articulations of queerness and queer theory as a mode of theorizing the world that Cathy Cohen suggests is “constructed and constrained by multiple practices of categorization and regulation that systematically marginalize and oppose subjects . . . as deviant and ‘other.’” But what if we were to rethink the potential for queer Caribbean and diaspora bodies as not beholden to the “heterogendered” cultures that constitute the categories of the homosexual or the undocumented immigrant as queer and in strict opposition to that which is normal?2 The queer Caribbean and diaspora experience cannot be easily explained within the framework of such frail dichotomies. Unified identities, indeed, are not necessary for political impact and change. And so the experiences of one homosexual Caribbean man and his immediate circle of friends stirs in readers the consideration that while cultural status is determined by the conditions in which a person finds themselves, some forms of status—for example, for persons who are relegated to the category of queer—remain fraught ones. Figures like Millington embody a kind of agency representative of West Indians who continue to push back against the “historical and ideological vacuum” of North American life that hopes to entrap and dictate how and when queerness might persist.3

If “blessings are often containers that hold curses” (78), is it possible that what is originally perceived as a curse can mask goodwill or the goodness in human nature? Easily Fooled shines the spotlight directly on some of the uglier facets of growing up Caribbean. For example, one’s inability to thrive as an openly homosexual man remains largely linked to a culture of gossip that constantly threatens one’s sexual autonomy with whispers, physical violence, and more. That said, Thomas’s novel also does an immaculate job of homing in on the beauty and goodwill that is the ethos of Caribbean people learning to live, not simply to survive, in the wake of unrelenting socioeconomic and political struggles in a postslavery society. This goodwill and hearty nature can be observed in the tell-all calypsos by the equally provocative and hilarious village calypsonian, Castigor, who sings and records songs about his philandering peers; every song takes on a magical life of its own. It is evidenced in the ne’er-do-well posse who, day after day, effortlessly makes grand the simplest of village commess (tales/speculation). The goodwill of Caribbean life is present in Millington’s father and mother, who decide not to resort to corporal punishment. Every one of these actions remain attached to darker, disheartening realities about growing up Caribbean, but Easily Fooled demands we recognize that the struggle and the ugly aren’t the only stories. The beauty of the wretched is that it remains but one facet of each of these characters and their personal trajectories.

What makes this novel beautiful is its commitment to honesty, a feat that enables Thomas’s writing to resonate so clearly. The work of birthing new possibilities, whether it be Thomas’s writing itself or the many pursuits of the characters found within his novels, is beautiful and fraught and honest and oftentimes tragic. These instances of realizing the self and community, at once, remain imperfectly hopeful, a reflection of the human hands and minds that influence this very making. Easily Fooled, the third installment in Thomas’s quartet, resounds with imperfect hope to the very last lines.


Linzey Corridon (he/they) is a Vanier Scholar and PhD student in the Department of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University. His research centers queer Caribbean and diaspora experiences. He is a 2020–21 fellow and researcher at the Lewis and Ruth Sherman Centre for Digital Scholarship.


[1] H. Nigel Thomas, Spirits in the Dark (Toronto: Anansi, 1993).

[2] Cathy J. Cohen, “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?,” GLQ 3, no. 4 (1997): 439, 438.

[3] Ibid., 451.



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