Writer Anton Nimblett is a tall, dark Trini with long locks framing his angular face. He’s the kind of man who, depending on your stereotypes, could be your dreams or your nightmares made flesh. But once you meet him, hear his quiet voice and jokes for days, you see that Nimblett is a bit like his short stories – so understated that you don’t realize you’ve been sweet-talked until the end. His new – and first – book, Sections of an Orange, does that. The stories’ emotions sneak up on you, hidden between lyrical descriptions of everyday life.
Daily activities such as cooking, eating, and commuting to work, are told as though you were talking to a best friend on the phone – a best friend who lingers on details such as the colour of plums and evocative descriptions of how and why people behave the way they do. And then, slowly, love and death, anger and grief seep into those details. The man who reminisces about an affair while he lies next to his unconscious lover in a car wreck, the man who mourns the loss of his now-grown niece as she falls in love, the old man who laboriously makes a last meal for his beloved wife. Several stories shift often between time frames with surprising ease, pointing out how the past informs every moment of our present.
The stories take place in Trinidad and in the USA, and sometimes, as in “Time and Tide,” travel between the two places as so many of our lives do. Nimblett has an excellent ear for Caribbean language – and not every writer who is from the Caribbean does! Betty in “Into My Parlour” is a familiar figure as she explains, “In the thirty something years that I living here on Reed Street with Emelda Johnson, she and I was never no set of friends, nothing more than ‘Morning Miss ’Melda’ and ‘Howdy do Miss Betty’.” And he gets people’s mannerisms right as well, from Trinis who insist on feeding people even when they bring bad news, to the picong friends toss to each other, to some men’s unwillingness to show tenderness outside of sex.
Before “Sections of an Orange” those looking for writing about gay Trini men have had to content themselves with a single novel
Though these stories mostly focus on men, unlike the generation of Caribbean male writers before him, Nimblett is also able to portray women, and relationships between them, as well as friendly, erotic, and romantic relationships between men. (Men who love men appear in most of the stories – though often unexpectedly or fleetingly, as in “Visiting Soldiers.”) While Trinidadians Dionne Brand and Shani Mootoo have written about Trinbagonian lesbians and transgender people, those looking for writing about gay Trini men have had to content themselves with a single novel, Aelred’s Sin. So Sections of an Orange is not only a refreshing contribution to Caribbean literature, it is also perhaps the first work of literature to portray Trinidadian men who both love other men and are not psychologically conflicted or destroyed by their sexuality. In a recent online article, Nimblett states that he did not begin writing seriously until relatively recently. His style, though, has probably been in development for much longer – evidence not only of talent, but also of a writer who is a devoted reader.
The stories in Sections of an Orange are not always easy to read and can call up deep and conflicting emotions. In the title story I wondered whether Brian was crazy, sick, or just misunderstood. And in “On the Side” I was angry with the narrator for having an affair, but still wanted him to survive the car crash. By the time you realize Nimblett’s characters are not always simple or sympathetic, they’ve snuck up on you, and you care about what happens to them.
Several of the stories are linked – “On the Side” and “Time and Tide”, Just Now” and “Marjory’s Meal”, “Sections of an Orange” and “Ring Games”. This implies that Nimblett’s next work might be longer fiction – a novella or, perhaps, a novel. His time-traveling prose could become a Marquez-like epic – or it could develop into a more experimental style. Either way, I trust he will not lose the intense lyrical voice and emotion these first stories hold. The author’s online commentary centers on the theme of asking for and being given permission to write. With the success of this deep, subtle first collection, Nimblett should never need to ask permission to write again.
Sections of an Orange (152 pp.) is carried by Nigel R Khan (with stores in eight malls: Ellerslie Plaza, Grand Bazaar, Gulf City–LaRomain & Lowlands/Tobago, Long Circular, Price Plaza, Trincity, and The Falls/West Mall); independent bookseller Paper Based (at Hotel Normandie in St. Anns); and can be shipped directly from the publisher, Peepal Tree press, in the UK. Or: win a free, autographed copy if you’re the first to tell us where the titles of the eight stories mentioned here are hidden in disguise throughout the blog.
Reviewer: Rosamond S King, PhD is a critical and creative writer, performer, and artist. She lives in Brooklyn when she’s not living somewhere else, and is a full-time faculty member of Brooklyn College.