Mark this as another moment where I need to write because every passing, pulsing minute sees my anxiety crank up a couple of notches. I need to write. I need to write. I need to write about something, this something that as been forced into my mind like a literary supernova. BANG! And I am suppose to make something of it.
The problem is, during these anxious moments, my ability to write is characterized by hectic nonsense, where my fingers shake as they hover closely over the keyboard and my thought process travels as fast as a bullet train, heading to places unknown, moving past all of the scenery and landmarks I need to investigate with unapologetic velocity. Please, stop and turn around. Let me glance at Jamaica for just a few more seconds, then you can be on your breakneck way. I need to write about it. I need to write about Jamaica.
Why? Why on earth would I write about Jamaica? What right do I have to allow myself some time to dedicate in order to reflect on a country I have never visited? December, 2016, if you asked me what I knew about Jamaica I would scoff, look away, and then turn my head and answer the only goddamn thing that everyone would expect so that you can stop expecting an answer from me.
Bob Marley and the Wailers...Oh and the Arthur theme song.
That is the phosphorescent residue left from the wake of my History minor. After given that honor upon graduation, I had no time, really, to delve into the infinite histories of the world because I needed a life plan. I love history, but as I keep finding out with the almost foolishly ambitious stories I write as scripts, it takes a while for things to be really understood. Patience is a necessary quality when slowly absorbing each photon of information, gathering them together into one mass and then creating a sort of historical wisdom, really figuring out why things worked the way they worked twenty, fifty, one-hundred, or fifteen thousand years ago.
History is one thing. Reading? Good lord, I think I may have been the only one I knew who was reading a book for fun that I have seen since...since a long time. And to refrain from sounding elitist, I don't remember the last time I read a fiction book. A fictionalized account of history? Such a hodgepodge is unthinkable...maybe even unspeakable.
Yet, if any of you reading know me in the physical form you would have noticed that for the last two months I've been carrying, somewhat pridefully, a yellow brick of a book. Handling it in every class, every coffee shop, and sometimes into the bathroom (you never know) because the desire to open the paperback and wrap myself up in the free form prose has palpitated through every vein in body since I started this excursion.
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
Before this book I have not heard of Marlon James, who had won the Man Booker Prize for this work...I didn't know what the Man Booker Prize was before I knew about Marlon James winning it. Nevertheless, the plot intrigued me; a story spanning many years and a multitude of voices, Jamaica's history in the wake of the assassination attempt on Bob Marley.
Wait, somebody tried to assassinate Bob Marley?
That's right, the quintessential History minor is at it again with his ignorance. Granted, although I like Bob Marley I wouldn't even call myself a fan for lack of ear play. Nevertheless, he was one of the most famous musicians in pop music and to not know that someone wanted to take his life still felt substantially lackluster to me. And for this story, crafted by James, to not just be about the attempt but the societal, economic, and political context surrounding the attempt was what really hooked me. At this point in my life, my narrative interests orbit around the history of some specific event or series of events and how it was morphed and molded by external factors. As one of the characters in the book says, "Nothing exists in a vacuum." That is correct. That is probably the one major idea I learned being a History minor. I have held that close whenever a historical fiction story pops up in my head, unformed and naive, ready to be researched.
It has made me aware, more susceptible to scrutinize, itching to question. Events, like an assassination attempt, have a ripple effect that shakes the waters surrounding individuals, groups, or whatnot, who may only have a disparate relation to the epicenter. So, as I provide a, ahem, brief reflection on A Brief History of Seven Killings, and I do mean brief as I want anyone who is interested to read this book almost entirely naked, a list of what makes this book brilliant and overwhelmingly powerful will congeal in a somewhat mentally volatile state. I apologize if this whole piece seems neurotic.
James's use of voice and perspective, isolated from any other element, is wondrous as it is mind-boggling. Told through the lens of about fifteen characters, each voice is crystalline in its uniqueness. A cross-section of post-colonial degradation and Cold War melodrama are exposed when each voice provides a context for which he or she approaches the events that are to unfold. Bob Marley, only referred to as The Singer, is seen as a mythical symbol, one that is being fabricated and humanized at the same time, depending on who you talk to . Although James throws us into the chaos with no help at all, we, in due time and with steadfast patience, begin to understand the fears and desires of many characters.
The uniqueness of voice is made possible by James's willingness to exert identity through experimental, or maybe experiential, prose. I don't think I have ever read such visceral sentences and paragraphs and chapters in my life. Marcel Proust and his In Search For Lost Time has, in my mind, championed the psychoanalytical. Douglas Adams mastered the dry absurdity of satire in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. But Marlon James has crafted his version of the visceral and each perspective we enter we thrust ourselves into the fast-moving stream of consciousness of each individual where reality and imagination, past and present, living and dead, fuse into one. We are at the mercy of such streams. Through its challenge the reward becomes brutally ethereal. There are scenes that shoot out of the page like a volcanic eruption, spewing out an abrasive heat of grit and realism. Somewhere in the book, there are death scenes so potent, reading it moved far beyond emotional or mental...it became unequivocally physical.
The story's narration, not meaning how someone like a character tells the story but how information is revealed, is just as majestic. The planning of when important points show themselves, how long certain bits of information remain hidden, and how some information is never overtly showcased but left for the reader to imply is glorious. James forces the reader to look a little closer, to peer deeper into the scorching details to find out how one thing links to the next, how he may or may not have tricked you, and then how this all has to do with Bob Marley. It would never be so physical to me if the information planted within the kaleidoscopic writing style were to come off as easy or conventional. Many times I had to put the book down and pace around my apartment, throw my hands up in the air, and then catch my breath. But this is such a boon for the reader because while the reading is still incredibly complex the injection of important information carries such force that the information is likely to linger for all six hundred and fifty plus pages, branded deep within the limbic system.
Lastly, it must be said that this is a fictional account of real events. To say that I have learned 'everything' there is to know about the attempt to assassinate Bob Marley is not even worth considering. But the one voice, out of a whole group of memorable characters, that is most important to consider and meditate on after you complete the book is James's voice. His approach has provided a carefully constructed zeitgeist that, in turn, has educated me in the tension and turmoil dominating a country trying to understand its own identity within the modern world. Indeed, many characters have an identity crisis in this book, and we sympathize as some lose themselves and wander, unsure of how to react to a changing world that may not give a shit about them. James takes time to fully realize the voices that have come and gone, that may have diffused to a thinness unmeasurable, to ultimately tell a story of his country that needs to be told.
What an exciting voice emerging to a more prominent role in the literary world. Ah, shit. What do I know? I don't think I've read a contemporary book since middle school. Why the hell should I make that claim? Artistic prestige notwithstanding, Marlon James is one helluva writer and I will see if I can read the books that came before and the ones he will write in the future. Jamaica, just like everywhere else in the world, is a complicated nation filled with complicated people. Respect the complexity and respect the people who wade in the complexity. Done right, and a weathered panorama is created. We hold our breath...
But really, in spite of waxing poetic, the story is excruciatingly violent and may even be reflexive in its approach, making it one of the most memorable books I have ever read (if you did not catch that sentiment previously as my words seemed to drool out of my mouth onto the computer screen...gross). And since James has forever made me change my perception on Andy Gibbs 'Shadow Dancing' I will say that James, indeed, does it right and, wait for it, takes me through the night. For the last two months I've shadow danced with Jamaican history and folklore. The song has stopped and I must move on but I know I have taken something with me as a reminder.
It's 3 AM and I am writing about a book...I should stop though I would be lying if I said I was not enjoying the hell out of this. Onto the next book.