‘The Letter From Home’ by Jamaica Kincaid

Kincaid, Jamaica 1981

The Letter From Home by Jamaica Kincaid, 1981

The magic trick:

Turning what appears to be a mundane diary entry into an existential crisis

We end Jamaica Kincaid Week with a story that aligns nicely with the story that opened the week. Just like “Girl” listed out a set of rules, “The Letter From Home” details – in a one, very long sentence, no less – a list of accomplished activities; chores really. It is almost as if the narrator in “Girl” has listened to the list of expectations and now is turning around and showing how she has acted in accordance to those rules.

Both stories mix the mundane with the extraordinary. Here, milking the cows is on the same list as bearing children. Both stories also generate a mounting sense of pressure. The narrator in “Letter” seems to be watching their life map out in front of them with very little in the way of control. It’s an exhausting read. And that’s quite a trick on Kincaid’s part.

The selection:

…the buildings are to be tall, the structures are to be sound, the stairs are to be winding, in the rooms sometimes there is to be a glow; the hats remain on the hat stand, the coats hang dead from the pegs, the hyacinths look as if they will bloom – I know their fragrance will be overpowering; the earth spins on its axis, the axis is imaginary, the valleys correspond to the mountains, the mountains correspond to the sea, the sea corresponds to the snake whose limbs are now reduced;…

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