- Communities in Contemporary Anglophone Caribbean Short Stories by Lucy Evans, and: Market Aesthetics: The Purchase of the Past in Caribbean Diasporic Fiction by Elena Machado Sáez
Lucy Evans’ Communities in Contemporary Anglophone Caribbean Short Stories and Elena Machado Sáez’s Market Aesthetics: The Purchase of the Past in Caribbean Diasporic Fiction both ask how Caribbean fictions, including diasporic ones, articulate community and belonging at local and global levels, how internal tensions animate those communities, and how fictional texts formally manifest the social, political, and aesthetic problematics that concern these writers. Evans’ book offers an insightful analysis of how community is conceptualized in eight contemporary Anglophone Caribbean short story collections and cycles. Machado Sáez analyzes contemporary Caribbean diasporic historical fiction as a transnational literary trend and demonstrates how writers negotiate the tension between a postcolonial imperative to ethically depict Caribbean history and subjectivities and market pressures informed by readers’ expectations.
In Communities, Evans argues that “the form of interconnected stories is a crucial part of these writers’ imagining of communities which may be fractured, plural and fraught with tensions, but which nevertheless hold together” (2). The grounds for this unity and the various axes of difference that challenge it are central concerns throughout Evans’ book, which draws on literary, cultural, and anthropological studies as well as on musical traditions. The theoretically dense introduction discusses the demographics and histories of Trinidad, Jamaica, and Guyana; surveys theoretical models of Caribbean community; offers a history of the Caribbean short story; and identifies the limitations of short story genre theory. Evans suggests that Edward Glissant’s, Wilson Harris’, and Antonio Benítez-Rojo’s models of association across difference are applicable to “the narrative structure of a short story collection or cycle made up of episodes at once discrete and interrelated” (23). She finds division and unity at many layers of Caribbean society, echoing a prevailing trope in Caribbean studies while refusing to privilege unity, as many studies do. She sees division and unity reflected in the short story form and celebrates [End Page 187] Caribbean writers’ “subtle and complex modes of working through differences without erasing them” (20). Evans’ discussion can likewise be commended for how it illustrates the range of dynamic, complex ways Caribbean writers articulate community without collapsing these into a single or simplified conclusion.
The book’s four chapters engage with progressively larger communities, moving from rural to urban, then national, and finally global diasporic collectivities. Chapters One and Two explore works by Olive Senior, Earl Lovelace, Kwame Dawes, and Alecia McKenzie. Evans contends that Senior and Lovelace formally combine modernist conventions with oral storytelling strategies in order to “portray the internal fracture and the heterogeneity characterising Caribbean rural communities more effectively than is possible … [in] traditional ethnography” (46–47). Furthermore, she argues that the short story form “facilitates a [distinct] mode of ethnography” (65) in creating a “multivocal rendering of community” (66). A similar pattern of argumentation emerges in Chapter Two, wherein anthropology loses a competition with literature. Edwidge Danticat and David Chariandy, both cited in Market Aesthetics, resist reader assumptions that fiction set in the developing world functions as social scientific research.1 Evans’ argument celebrates fiction’s capacity to offer more nuanced renderings of community than social science but nonetheless assesses fiction as a social scientific intervention, thereby submitting authors to the pressures Danticat and Chariandy object to. This contradiction notwithstanding, Evans illustrates literature’s capacity for imagining community in ways that anthropology cannot. Evans’ treatment of anthropology at times fails to acknowledge the very different objectives, audiences, methods, and conditions of production that the discipline involves. For example, when she highlights “the capacity of … short story collections or cycles … to incorporate a range of sometimes incompatible perspectives and subject positions; a task which is difficult, although not impossible, within the format of an anthropological study” (28), she submits the...