There are some ugly truths in every family, of betrayal, of abuse, of pain.
In Jamaican-born writer Patricia Powell’s latest novel, The Fullness of Everything, those truths are especially jarring.
There is a father’s extensive abuse of his oldest son, abuse that is so violent that it sends the son, Winston, into a 25-year exile to the United States. While there, he has no communication with his family until he learns of his father’s impending death.
The father’s varied sins – of alcohol abuse, of physical and emotional abuse, of rape, of infidelity, of fathering multiple children out of wedlock – are the catalysts for the novel’s many twists.
But it is Winston’s return to the island to hopefully reconnect with his mother, his brother and his dying father, that leads to the explosive events that threaten to destroy the family all together.
It is an unflattering, yet honest portrayal of familial pain that is often only whispered about in many Caribbean families, says Powell, who is among the authors scheduled to appear at the Broward Public Library Foundation’s Literary Feast, March 19 – 20.
“I wanted to explore what it’s like when there’s a lot of violence in a family and one person decides to stop the chain of violence,” Powell said. “It’s not about condemning Jamaica and making it look bad, but forcing people to talk about this, which is common in a lot of families.’’
She continued: “I wanted to explore what can happen when one person is brave enough to speak out. I wanted to show that one person can change the entire dynamics of that family.”
Powell, 44, left Jamaica at age 16 but remains obsessed with her Caribbean heritage and in telling stories of her homeland, she said.
“I’ve lived in the U.S. longer than I lived in Jamaica but I dream about Jamaica every night. All my dreams are set there,’’ she said.
Her previous novels have tackled thorny issues as well: a gay Jamaican man dying of AIDS; the Chinese immigrant experience in Jamaica and the racial tensions it brings; and a woman’s struggle in a loveless marriage and the complicated web of her infidelity.
While Powell’s novels are all works of fiction there is a lot of emotional truth, she says.
“Even if my character is a Chinese woman or peopled by men, what I’m interested in is what it’s like to face fear, the fear of challenging someone you love even though they might leave you.’’
Her latest novel, again, forces the reader to ponder many issues that dominate Caribbean culture among them: women who stay in marriages with husbands who cheat and father outside children and ask their wives to raise those children, fathers who admonish their sons for showing any signs of being effeminate because they are fearful that a son who cries will become a homosexual and the difficulty most Caribbean men have in showing signs of affection.
“We call them sissies if they cry,” says Powell. “We have a culture that says it’s okay for men to act out in sexually inappropriate ways and then we wonder why we end up with fathers and lovers who can’t talk to us, fathers and lovers who have sex with no intimacy.”
Winston’s return and his struggle with his family to face the deception will inevitably lead to that intimacy.
Conversation happens. People talk without anger.
And that is how the family will eventually heal itself.
“It’s toxic and it gets more violent before it gets better. It’s like opening a wound that’s not completely healed; it smells bad … but it has to before it can heal.’’
Photo by Prudence Carter. Patricia Powell
IF YOU GO
Literary Feast 2010 will celebrate the literary arts. Here, authors, bloggers, librarians, educators and book lovers of all ages converge, mingle and share their love of words. Comprising literary, social and educational elements, Literary Feast has showcased over 324 authors in the last 21 years. Proceeds benefit the Broward Public Library Foundation.
• On the morning and afternoon of Friday, March 19, there will be an interactive, educational outreach program in which authors visit local high schools throughout Broward County to discuss their lives and work, and to inspire young writers to pursue their literary dreams. A judged writing contest will encourage participation from over 1,500 students.
• Patricia Powell and other authors will speak at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 20 at the Alvin Sherman Library at Nova Southeastern University, 3301 College Avenue, Davie.
• Authors will meet one-on-one and in group settings to greet thousands of enthusiastic book lovers. The daylong series includes panel discussions, lectures, book sales and signings. The event is free and open to the public.
• Patricia Powell will also make an appearance at the Night of Literary Feasts, which begins at 6 p.m. Saturday, March 20 at the Hyatt Pier 66, 2301 SE 17th St., Fort Lauderdale. This premier literary fundraising event begins with a two-hour cocktail reception, book sales and signing at the Hyatt. The reception is followed by a series of sophisticated dinner parties hosted in fabulous private homes and upscale South Florida restaurants. Each intimate dinner has a different, individual guest author in attendance. Tickets are $150. To receive an invitation
call 954-357-7384 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a full list of events and scheduled authors visit: www.bplfoundation.org/literaryfeast.htm