Lucy, a teenage girl from the West Indies, comes to America to work as an au pair for a wealthy couple. She begins to notice cracks in their beautiful faade at the same time that the mysteries of own sexuality begin to unravel. Jamaica Kincaid has created a startling new heroine who is destined to win a place of honor in contemporary fiction.
Lucy is not likeable for at least half of this short book. She is full of anger and contempt, not just for rich people, but for everything she encounters. She deliberately hurts people with the barbs of her tongue. She scorns the kind gestures and the confidences of her female employer, Mariah.
I hated her. I hated Lucy for her nastiness, her anger, her refusal to relax her guard. She was a black girl from a tropical island who'd been given a chance to better herself, and she just didn't care. "She should be more grateful", I thought, several times.
Do you hear it? I heard it. I thought she should be grateful. I wanted the young black girl to be better behaved because she had a job as a domestic worker, a servant by another name, for a family who treated her well. I wanted her to be nicer to the white family she worked for. I didn't know that white privilege runs through my veins, that casual racism is part of my makeup. In this week of Harry and Meghan's interview with Oprah, I was proud that I didn't treat black people any different than white people, people with skin like mine. I was wrong.
So this book was an eye-opener. I was not prepared to find my thoughts about race were suspect. It was the first warm day of not-quite spring. There was a warm breeze. It was a nice day in my all-white neighbourhood. The things you learn when you read. Do all white people feel like I do? Is it a sign of growth that I now recognize that my inner monologue is not as lofty as I believed yesterday, that nice warm day? Or is that just more white privilege, another way of saying "I understand the problem of racism because I've been woken up by a novella"? I don't know. Food for thought. I have much to learn, and much to unlearn too.
The book got four stars because I was profoundly uncomfortable with the vivid sex scenes. They were very well written; they aroused me, and I felt ashamed for the sensations of my body during a description of sex involving a nineteen year old girl.