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At the Bottom of the River Paperback – October 15, 2000

4.3 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Kincaid's first collection focuses on a nameless, blossoming Caribbean girl. According to PW , "The voice--incantatory, lyric, rhapsodic--is closer to the condition of poetry and music than to fiction in any of its ordinary registers."
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“This book will burn on your shelf. It is too choked with love to incite envy, too humble for admiration, and still too stratling to escape astonishment.” ―Derek Walcott
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (October 15, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374527342
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374527341
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #354,333 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Debbie Lee Wesselmann TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 2, 2004
Format: Paperback
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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By sarah on November 20, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
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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By Kevin Sim on December 8, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
'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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Format: Paperback
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.
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