Wingless by Jamaica Kincaid, 1979
The magic trick:
Using rich language and virtually no narrative to create a powerful mood and series of ideas
So, if yesterday’s feature, “Girl,” establishes a code of rules and social customs, then “Wingless” is where Kincaid’s collection, At The Bottom Of The River, begins to explore what happens when the girl tries to reconcile the original, problematic thoughts in her head with this restrictive world.
Spoiler alert: it does not go well.
Nothing in this story collection is direct. The stories don’t have plots. But “Wingless” is especially nebulous. The language is rich and poetic but never obvious. What the reader is left with is a remarkably oppressive feeling of middle childhood, when one is starting to develop a sense of unique identity but doesn’t yet have the tools to actualize anything. That process was hard for me as a white male growing up in middle class Cincinnati, Ohio. I can only imagine the difficulties this narrator (Kincaid) had trying to solve life’s puzzles given the strict and often demeaning code of rules outlined in the collection’s first story. It’s a lot to think about from a story that doesn’t even have a narrative. And that’s quite a trick on Kincaid’s part.
The children’s voices: pinks, blues, yellows, violets, all suspended. All is soft, all is embracing, all is comforting. And yet I myself, at my age, have suffered so. My tears, big, have run down my cheeks in uneven lines – my tears, big, and my hands too small to hold them. My tears have been the result of my disappointments. My disappointments stand up and grow ever taller. They will not be lost to me. There they are. Let me pin tags on them. Let me have them registered like newly domesticated animals. Let me cherish my disappointments, fold them up, tuck them away, close to my breast, because they are so important to me.
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