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At the Bottom of the River
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Jamaica Kincaid's AT THE BOTTOM OF THE RIVER is a study of voice and language that first brought the author recognition beyond the pages of literary journals. These ten stories, all but the last extremely short, are set in an intense Caribbean landscape where a girl comes of age in the shadow of her mother; they are hallucinatory, tense, and indirect, leaving much for the reader to interpret. For example, the first story, "Girl", is a monologue spoken by the mother giving advice ("this is how you set a table for dinner") interspersed with comments degrading the daughter. The two italicized, one-sentence responses from the daughter speak volumes about this complicated relationship. "What I Have Been Doing Lately" is a dream-like narrative that lists what the narrator is (probably not) doing and, in the process, illustrates the emotional state of someone so sad that she just wants to lie in bed. "At the Bottom of the River", the final, longest, and most traditional of the stories, implies the past and future of the narrator through visions seen "at the bottom of the river."
Kincaid's style combines the effect of the simple but perfect word with the lilt of Caribbean rhythms. On the surface, these stories are not difficult to read, but they can be challenging to understand for the reader accustomed to more traditional methods of storytelling. The collection is about as short as a book can get, and so the stories can be read in one sitting, back to back, although their absorption can take much longer.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on November 20, 1999
Just as a diamond's facets make it shine, At the Bottom of the River is composed of disparate glimpses of brilliance. Short short stories in a unifying vein of carribean color, these pieces are mystical, sensual and poetic. The cadence of Kincaid's language takes hold of you-- you don't read this book so much as you surf it. . . you breathe it. . . you feel it resonate within you long after it's over.
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18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on December 8, 1999
A book that drifts from page to page, from consciousness to consciousness.
Reading the book is liking trying to look at things at the bottom of the river, which continuously get distorted by the movement of the water, the interplay of light reflected on the surface and shadows at the bed, and things that sometimes drift into view and out - with and for no apparent reason.
Quite an interesting experience.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 1, 2004
'At the Bottom of the River' is a lyrical collection of some of Jamaica Kincaid's most provocative writing. Although occasionally confounding in her use of abstract images and construction of abstruse and ethereal narratives, Kincaid's stories nevertheless contain breathtaking lyricism and innovative lines of poetic prose; her words seem to reverberate from the very recesses of metamorphic meaning.

This collection begins innocently enough with one of Kincaid's most impacting writings, Girl. Girl is one of the most severe but accurate depictions of the volatile intensity between mother and daughter. Fueled by a combination of love, fear, and partial loathing, a mother doles out a mantra of life lessons with equal parts concern and venom: "When buying cotton to make yourself a nice blouse, be sure that it doesn't have gum on it, because that way it won't hold up well after a wash. ... Always eat your food in such a way that it won't turn someone else's stomach; on Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the (...) you are so bent on becoming." The essays that follow are sinewy with sexual, violent, and spiritual themes.

Kincaid's strength lies in her rage. One senses it above all in her amazing control over words, which, while extremely satisfying on the level of literary technique, also comes across as a refusal to be vulnerable and a reply to anyone who would try to keep her down.

Like a journal, 'At the Bottom of the River' matures in content as it proceeds. Kincaid's prose-poetry initially appears whimsical (she describes some pebbles as "not pebbly enough") and that's the mystique of her writing, how it almost capriciously masks cerebral contemplations on living, dying, and the struggle in-between.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
At the Bottom of the River is a lovely rendition of a writer's mind, leisure, vision, appeal, hope, awareness and understanding. This project surpasses what the common reader readies for in the telling of a good story. Each sentence in this work is a story. I will write it again: Each sentence is a story with perfect images, "The branches were dead; a fly hung dead on the branches, its fragile body fluttering in the wind as if it were remnants of a beautiful gown." Ms. Kincaid's style throughout At the Bottom might put one in the mind of Gertrude Stein. The repetition. Certainly, however, Ms. Kincaid's project is her own, very distinctive genius. It takes us to a place that lacks anything hackneyed and it is shaped with qualities that peck at our curiousity. The book works in first person and third person never conveniently laying the story out as a consecutive. But there are characters; there is a central character to follow. The movement is chopped with these extraordinary, brilliant images beyond description and most every sentence leaves on the tongue the question of "who did that?" or "why?": "Someone is making a basket, someone is making a girl a dress or a boy a shirt, someone is making her husband a soup with cassava so that he can take it to the cane field tomorrow, someone is making his wife a beautiful mahogany chest, someone is sprinkling a colorless powder outside a closed door so that someone else's child will be stillborn." And so you get these incredible juxtapositions along side wholesome chops of fascinating imagery. We move through childhood, through relationships, through friendships, through parents and through self. And there is even dialogue for the reader who whines that there is no plot.
Ms. Kincaid writes this piece in a style that is deeply dense and in a way we are able to see, on the pages, a character's mind, discovery, understanding and wonder (no part of nature is left unturned). We are even privy to questions and philosophy and resignations about life and death. In this piece Ms. Kincaid gives new meaning to "the universal eye".
At the Bottom of the River is brilliant, genius! A must read!
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on December 18, 2014
Saw Kincaid at the Chicago Humanities Festival on Northwestern U's campus and she read the first prose-poem in this book which was very funny.
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on December 23, 2014
got here perfectly and fast thank you
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 19, 2003
Kincaid's stories have a distinct voice and accent, which perpetuate the subversion of standard rules prescribed by centres of authority. She appropriates that authority, by indulging in a style of writing which is unique (the two page sentences) and the inversion of punctuation and syntax canons. Her plotless stories describe a state of being which is fractured, which has no beginning or an end, which is struggling to come to terms with its marginalized existence in terms of race, color, gender and economic status. Being an immigrant in USA, the nameless character's struggle for self-definition, identity, and a truncated and oppressed past transfigure powerfully in this collection. The sense of dislocation encountered in her journey to America, the traveling from the Carribean to a new country, a new culture and discourse in which she must chart her own path towards self-discovery, enlightenment out her 'blackness', the assertion of her 'girl'hood, can only be relocated in vague forms 'at the bottom of the river'.
Effectively disruptive, beautiful, introspective and soulful. Read this book if you are colored or an immigrant. Read this book even if your aren't colored or an immigrant. You'll love it.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 2007
I got this book because it is one of the required books I need for my college class. When I began reading the book, I didn't like nor dislike the book because it is a strange book comparing to many books I have read so far in college and through out my life. This book consists of many ordinary stories such as our everyday life. For instance, "I am trying to read. The book is lying in my lap. I look around me, trying to find something on which to focus my eyes." Some of the stories are extraordinary or strange if you would want to consider them. For instance, "Now I am a girl, but one day I will marry a woman-a red-skin woman with black bramblebush hair and brown eyes, who wears skirts that are so big I can easily bury my head in them." or "I stood up on the edge of the basin and felt myself move. But what self? For I had no feet, or hands, or head, or heart-having once been there, were now stripped away, as if I had been dipped again and again, over and over, in a large vat filled with some precious elements and were now reduced to something I yet had no name for. I had no name for the thing I had become, so new was it to me, except that I did not exist in pain or pleasure, east or west or north or south, or up or down, or past or present or future, or real or not real." This book is a beautiful poem but from reading the book, it didn't teach me much but it does somewhat inspire me to write my own book. (If this what you call a book, I can write one also.)
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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 29, 2002
In its strangeness is its beauty.
I won't pretend to have understood this book. At times I'd put it down and think, huh? But the overall impression was that of the privilege of listening in on the unstructured flow of a person's thoughts-- of following the mystical journey that takes a Caribbean girl to womanhood-- of the complicated relationship between a mother and her daughter-- and more.
Still, after having read it, I still wonder, what was that about? But I feel better having read it. I feel smarter. I feel wise. I know that I have learned something. It might take me a while to figure out what it was.
Enjoy.
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