MARIA THOMPSON CORLEY — LETTING GO — 2016
At first I thought it was a romance with a slightly erotic dimension and I found out fast that I was wrong. So what is it?
Some might say it is a black romance. But apart from a few characters, the two main ones particularly, being black, there is little black culture or language in this book. True enough, they are West Indians, and then what? The language and the culture are not West Indian. A few anecdotic references but nothing else. But will you say they are living in Canada and for some of them working in New York City, so what? Canada is the best representative of multiculturalism and New York is one of the most diverse melting pot or salad bowl in the world. Even so there is so few black references that it could be a white romance slightly erotic, and yet it is not a romance slightly erotic, black or white. So what is it?
It is a detailed family portrait of two characters and their families. On one side Cecile from a very Christian family, at least the mother, and she is never able to step over or away from this link that becomes a chain, a pillory of exposition: she is exposed as a fundamentalist Christian who is not able to take any decision by herself without the consent of God, or at least her mother. And yet she is the erotic one who makes love with any boy available that is rather good looking. Pre-marital intercourse is a basic principle for this young lady. She does not realize her contradiction. You cannot ask God to help you all the time if you do not respect the basic principles of God’s ethics, or vice versa if you do not respect God’s fundamental ethics, you’d better not state the existence of god who has become useless for you. So she becomes humdrum to the utmost with her pangs of conscience but always when she gets out of bed from an affair that has no future, except for one she literally traps into marrying her not because she really loves him but because she needs to sanctify her lack of Christian purity, as if marrying the sinner with whom you have sinned will make him a saint and make you a mega-saint. Absurd. Something like a woman marrying the man who has forcefully made her pregnant in order to sanctify that pregnancy. Mark my cautious language.
What’s more, the most interesting side of Cecile, her musical career, is only alluded to when at school in New York City, at the Juilliard school of music. There with some other students there is a slight debate about black musicians competing for a position in the performance of classical music which is not black as opposed to performing black music. Cecile has it cheap: she plays the organ in a black church every Sunday. But once again a good deed does not turn the sinner into a saint. I understand the ambition to play all the composers and pieces of music that have been composed since the beginning of western music in Jerusalem with King David’s music school. But there is a vast catalogue, library or simply data base of black music, composed by black people in the USA, in Canada, in Africa and beyond in the rest of the world. Targeting both registers would be a very good thing to do, but she rejects anything black and she only wants to be a black pianist playing classical white music. And as soon as she starts a career the music is dropped from the novel.
The other main character is Langston. He is so black, this West Indian living in Canada, that his first girl friend is a white woman, the daughter of his Italian boss in the restaurant he works for to pay for his college studies. We know from the very first minute it will not go through because the father will refuse a black son in law, no matter how good he may be in the catering business. By accident, after the failure of this affair, he meets Cecile and is attracted, when she is on a short visit to her family in Canada. She of course gives herself as if it were a question of life or death, though at the time she is having a liaison with a certain Teddy she will eventually marry and with whom she will have two children and yet she will in the end separate from that Teddy who likes his girl-friends under age and with no attachment.
So what is that story about?
The impossibility for Cecile and Langston to establish an adult relationship. They are attracted but Cecile in a way makes the relation kind of satirical, humorous, un-serious, and Langston let it develop like that with letters, phone calls and emails that are always insignificant, superficial, derogative but humorously debunking though, in other words both are unable to just become intimate in their language, in their interests, in their aims in life. Cecile will be a hardly successful divorcee with two children unable to make her music a real project in her life, just a way to get the money she needs to survive and suddenly nostalgically attracted to Langston in her advanced maturity after 16 years of estrangement. Langston will be successful in the catering business with a West Indian restaurant catering for the standard population in Canada which is vastly white and slightly black, but, as for these black citizens, mostly from the West Indies where they were slaves at one time but had gotten out of it often before the slaves in the USA, and they were never treated as ruthlessly as they were in the USA on the model and at the instigation of a certain William Lynch. That made it easy for both Cecile and Langston to abandon their language, their culture, their everything black in them, except traditional West Indian food for Langston, but as he says, it is more trendy in Canada than cultural. And for Thanksgiving, this racist celebration of the extermination of Indians, they cook and eat a turkey with all the stuffing and side dishes.
The end then is suspended failure more than promised success. No luck, boys and girls, when you forget who and what you are you end up being fooled and flunked, bamboozled in one word. They definitely tricked their life-treks and they ended lost in some kind of tasteless, heartless, mindless deculturated wasteland. And they can even get children in that wasteland. You can imagine the children’s frustration and depravation when they realize they have been robbed of their deeper roots for the sake of just fitting in the standard white society around them.
In other words, it is a sad depiction of what multiculturalism is and could be in Canada and will some day be in the USA, when the USA have finished being trumped into racial hatred..
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU