The trip to bountiful

By Geoffrey Philp

The Fullness of Everything, by Patricia Powell
(Peepal Tree Press, ISBN 978-1845231132, 240 pp)

Simple acts. They add up. They add up until they become a life. A life filled with complications, setbacks, betrayals, and sometimes a little happiness. And from birth, this one life joins a web of family, friends, and acquaintances which extends to those who have yet to come and those who have joined eternity. “The unity is submarine,” as Kamau Brathwaite said in another context, the closest description I can apply to Patricia Powell’s fourth novel, The Fullness of Everything, a meditation on the intimate connections among relationships of blood and compassion, rendered in exquisite prose.

There are so many things I could say about The Fullness of Everything. I could say that the novel is about a history professor, Winston Rowe, who upon receiving news of his father’s imminent death, returns to Jamaica after a twenty-five-year absence only to discover that his father is still alive and has sired an “outside” child. And that the child, Rosa, possesses psychic abilities that allow her to sense the thoughts and feelings of those around her — including her dead father:

The plane had barely left the ground, had barely settled itself more firmly in the sky and levelled off, her ears had only just stopped popping when their father appeared wearing the same light blue bush-jacket with red embroidery on the pockets that he used to wear on Sundays for the afternoon meal.

I could also say that the novel’s overlapping narratives seamlessly exploit the differing points of view of Winston and his brother, Septimus, who has never recovered from the death of Althea, his twin sister, and is dealing with his wife’s infidelity:

In the hotel at Treasure Beach they make love, as this is the only language he knows, but when they are done, the chasm between them is even wider than before and he doesn’t know what to do with his wife, with his marriage, with his own damn self, with the disgust away in his chest.

But I would be telling only half of the story. Or, rather, it would be a pedestrian reading of the novel.

The Fullness of Everything is one of those rare novels that can be read for a well-told story, expertly plotted and developed, and which will leave you feeling good, not just because of the seemingly effortless resolution of the essential conflicts, but also for Powell’s masterful strokes of characterisation that lull the reader into identifying with the main characters, or at the very least into thinking that she knows people like the ones in the novel. Add to this gorgeous prose:

In the middle of the day when the sun is at its zenith, the light at its whitest, when there is no breeze at all stirring the world and all God’s creatures have come to a complete full stop — the dog is fast asleep under the mango tree, its mouth bubbling with foam; the cat is curled up underneath the bed licking herself slowly and yawning; the birds have taken refuge down by the river; the rooster is too stunned to crow; the cows have fallen to their knees in the fields; the flies don’t even bother to move out of the way of the swatter; the mosquitoes land on your arm and forget to sip — this when they come to the willow trees at the bottom of the garden, his mother periodically dozing off and then picking up the conversation again, mid-sentence.

If it seems I am overly enthusiastic (which no self-respecting critic should be), I am. Patricia Powell has written — yes, I’ll say it — a beautiful novel in every sense of the word. Against the background of her previous novels — Me Dying Trial (1993), The Pagoda (1998), and A Small Gathering of Bones (2003) — The Fullness of Everything continues the theme of healing to its logical conclusion. It’s an apt gift for a reader who has poured passion, tears, and laughter into this life, for she will be rewarded with well-crafted sentences and sensuous images in that other life of the imagination. Every word is measured, every emotion is earned without a hint of sentimentality — yet a sense of bounty remains. Sometimes I feel as if Powell is trying to tell the whole human story in these 240 pages, “pressed down, shaken together, and running over.” And sometimes, I believe. I believe.


The Caribbean Review of Books, July 2010

Geoffrey Philp is a Jamaican writer based in Miami. His next collection of poems, Dub Wise, will be published by Peepal Tree Press in September 2010.