See Now Then by Jamaica Kincaid
By Alan Cheuse
How might a Hollywood movie pitchman capture the tone and pith of See Now Then, a new novel by the intense and lyrical novelist Jamaica Kincaid about the disintegration of a modern marriage? Chaucer’s Wife of Bath meets Virginia Woolf!
The Sweets, fictional stand-ins for Kincaid and her former husband, live in the (real-life) village of North Bennington, Vt., in a house formerly owned by (real-life) eccentric novelist Shirley Jackson and her (real-life) husband, the brilliant literary critic Stanley Edgar Hyman. Mr. Sweet is a modernist composer, and Mrs. Sweet, born in the Caribbean, is a housewife, mother and lay philosopher when it comes to the large questions of time and language.
Despite all the brilliance, as the novel opens, the Sweets have gone sour. Their marriage, once a wonderful romance, has turned into a disaster of warring attitudes, a battlefield on which their children play among the wreckage.
All of this is presaged by the immediate reference to the death of their handyman neighbor, Homer, who had a heart attack while out hunting the biggest deer of his life. (Homer is dead — get it? Epic is over; the domestic novel rules.) Mr. Sweet, as the angry Mrs. imagines him, wants only to stay in his study and write difficult music (a symphony for 147 lyres, for example) that no one wants to hear, while wishing her dead with every second thought.
Read the complete review at See Now Then by Jamaica Kincaid – chicagotribune.com.