See Now Then
By Jamaica Kincaid
Farrar Straus Giroux, Hardcover, 9780374180560, 192pp.
Publication Date: February 5, 2013
List Price: $24.00*
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In "See Now Then," the brilliant and evocative new novel from Jamaica Kincaid-her first in ten years-a marriage is revealed in all its joys and agonies. This piercing examination of the manifold ways in which the passing of time operates on the human consciousness unfolds gracefully, and Kincaid inhabits each of her characters-a mother, a father, and their two children, living in a small village in New England-as they move, in their own minds, between the present, the past, and the future: for, as she writes, "the present will be now then and the past is now then and the future will be a now then." Her characters, constrained by the world, despair in their domestic situations. But their minds wander, trying to make linear sense of what is, in fact, nonlinear. "See Now Then "is Kincaid's attempt to make clear what is unclear, and to make unclear what we assumed was clear: that is, the beginning, the middle, and the end.
Since the publication of her first short-story collection, "At the Bottom of the River," which was nominated for a PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, Kincaid has demonstrated a unique talent for seeing beyond and through the surface of things. In "See Now Then," she envelops the reader in a world that is both familiar and startling-creating her most emotionally and thematically daring work yet.
Praise for See Now Then
“Writers make uncomfortable kin . . . There’s a reflex in every writer that trumps even the maternal instinct, a part of her that, even while her newborn suckles at her breast, is cold-eyed, choosing words to describe the pit-bull clamp of its gums, the crusted globe of its skull, with the same dispassion which she might describe fellow passengers on a bus . . . The intimate treachery, the permanent duality that this entails . . . are lucidly examined in Jamaica Kincaid’s latest novel . . . Kincaid has the gift of endowing common experience with a mythic ferocity… [She] is one of our most scouringly vivid writers.” —Fernanda Eberstadt, New York Times Book Review
“Chaucer’s Wife of Bath meets Virginia Woolf! . . . With the intensity of Virginia Woolf, Kincaid creates a palimpsest of time past, time present and time future . . . Mrs. Sweet in these pages makes a verbal symphony . . . Kincaid’s attempt to capture living itself may just be, as she puts it, ‘always just out of reach,’ but her talent for trying remains palpable on every page . . . Connoisseurs will find it delicious.” —Alan Cheuse, Chicago Tribune, Book of the Month
“Most readers feel protective of that little unit, the family. When it breaks, as it so often does and most certainly will in this story, we experience the tragedy . . . Was it ever any different? Did Mr. Sweet, who so utterly resembles the absent-minded Mr. Ramsay from Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, ever truly love Mrs. Sweet, a modern-day Mrs. Ramsay—the mother who struggles every day to save her family from destruction, or just unhappiness?” —Susan Salter Reynolds, Newsday
“See Now Then is a hurricane of a book, a novel of psychic bewilderment and seething inaction that relentlessly defines and redefines the sense of otherness and displacement that is the permanent legacy of slavery and colonialism. An existential crisis if there ever was one, Jamaica Kincaid mines it with seriousness, tenderness and frequently savage humor in this novel, showing that it touches not just blacks, but all people, however loathe they may be to admit it. But See Now Then gives us no choice. From the first pages, its intimate, matter of fact, stream of consciousness style blurs the lines between us and them, now and then, poetry and prose, reality and imagination . . . With Kincaid, it’s never a matter of what wins, only of what is.” —Ms. Magazine
“Pervasive in See Now Then . . . is bawdy humor and unabashed rage and sorrow . . . The theme of time’s inexorable march and how it colors our perspective is reinforced by sometimes abruptly shifting recollections. . . Those who treasure Kincaid’s quirky lyricism will no doubt enjoy the challenge.” —USA Today
“If there is a plot to See Now Then, it is the story of Mrs. Sweet’s efforts to confront her own fear of the ‘round, turning world’ —a fear that can no longer be assuaged by incantations of age and youth. To say that Mrs. Sweet conquers her terror is too pat a summary but by the end of the novel she has reached a kind of equilibrium. It is marvelous to behold.” —Hannah Gersen, The Millions
“Bold and beautiful . . . Joycean? Yes, and also much like the role of Winnie in the Samuel Beckett play ‘Happy Days’—both Winnie and Kincaid addressing us in a rush that we recognize as an actual process of thought . . . See Now Then is—by turns—lovely, even lilting, difficult, and condemning of Mr. Sweet. The good news is that everything works—Kincaid’s style, story and startling way of telling a tale of the cosmos in terms of domesticity . . . There is courage and brilliance here, and an unusual way of going about it. We hurt for Mrs. Sweet, we pull for her, we identify with her passion for her children while we somewhat understand Mr. Sweet – and fairly jump for joy when Mrs. Sweet notes that, ‘Death has no Then and Now.’” —Karen Brady, Buffalo News
“Damned, haunted and psychological . . . Kincaid’s heady fiction doesn’t unfold dramatically, but her prose does, vining and clinging to readers’ ears, blooming into a tritone musical theory—see-now-then . . . Churning through the tenses, Mrs. Sweet’s stream of consciousness is the narrative form: an aesthetic rendering of how time, memory and imagination create the fabric of being . . . In her earlier novels, misaligned family relations produce the potential for human failure. Kincaid’s female protagonist-narrators triumph against those circumstances through literary intelligence. Mrs. Sweet’s grappling with time is beautiful and brutal: It acknowledges that our failures sometimes deny surmounting and, instead, resonate across memory into persistent, heart-rending permanence.” —Walton Muyumba, Dallas Morning News