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Books

book review

‘See Now Then’ by Jamaica Kincaid

Toxic emotions suffuse “See Now Then,” Jamaica Kincaid’s bitter, autobiographical, end-of-marriage novel. In sometimes circuitous language, she stretches a fraying marriage across the loom of time and picks it apart, stitch by stitch, obsessively rethinking how the relationship began, how and when it turned hateful.

Mrs. Smart and Mr. Smart, a composer on a college faculty, live with their children — “the beautiful Persephone” (whom he adores) and “the young Heracles” (whom she adores) — in the Shirley Jackson house in a small New England town obviously modeled on Bennington, Vt. Kincaid sketches the dissonance between them repeatedly. He was raised in doorman buildings in Manhattan, with dinners at the Plaza Hotel, a mother who wore French perfume, and a father who had phobias and two households. She was raised fatherless in Antigua. Their marriage served, in part, to protect her from deportation.

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