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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 854

Part I Kincaid sets the pace for the nonlinear story she tells in the opening paragraph when she describes first visiting Devon in the Gweneth O’Reilly ward of the Holberton Hospital, where he was said to be dying of AIDS; she then skips immediately to the circumstances of his birth....

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Part I
Kincaid sets the pace for the nonlinear story she tells in the opening paragraph when she describes first visiting Devon in the Gweneth O’Reilly ward of the Holberton Hospital, where he was said to be dying of AIDS; she then skips immediately to the circumstances of his birth. The ostensible connection between these thoughts is tenuous at best: Devon is the only one of Kincaid’s mother’s four children who was not born in a hospital. The logic of this leap makes increasing sense as the reader learns to follow Kincaid’s idiosyncratic and winding thought processes.

Kincaid describes having distanced herself from her family only to have been drawn back into their orbit by her brother’s illness. She reminisces about her family, especially her mother, discussing everything from her mother’s dislike of her daughter’s faculty for remembering to her mother’s skill at gardening. She talks of the sorry state of health care in Antigua, the dirtiness of the Holberton Hospital, and the isolation of AIDS patients. At one point, Kincaid thinks that something good has come of Devon’s illness: it’s made her realize she loves him. She tells Devon of her love, and he responds in kind.

Kincaid procures the AIDS drug AZT for Devon, and he soon begins to recover and eventually leaves the hospital. But wellness is not a perfectly happy state for him. While Devon was hospitalized, his oldest brother, Joe, moved into his house. Devon returns home to live with his mother, sharing a bed with her. Kincaid also learns that Devon is having unprotected sex with a woman who doesn’t know of his disease and that he is drinking beer every night. This section ends as Kincaid learns that her brother is once again ill.

Part II
The opening words of this section summarize what’s to come: ‘‘My brother died.’’ And yet Devon does not die in the simple terms that Kincaid first suggests with that three-word sentence. Instead, his death is relived many times, from different perspectives. First, Kincaid describes the last time she saw her brother alive. She then recalls the moment that she learns he has died. Having returned home from a trip to Miami, she checks on her sleeping children, Harold and Annie, and they ask her to climb into bed with them and snuggle. She falls asleep, and in the morning, her husband wakes her and tells her that Devon has died. Kincaid’s first response is to be relieved that the grieving is hers, not his, because she loves her husband dearly and would prefer to be in pain than to worry about his suffering.

Once again, Kincaid circles back to the last time she saw Devon alive, recalling that she didn’t kiss him goodbye. At that moment, she felt anger, and ‘‘my anger was everything to me, and in my anger lay many things, mostly made up of feelings I could not understand . . .’’ This mention of anger leads her to a discussion of her mother and the still fresh anger she feels toward her. She then relates the defining story of her relationship to her mother. At fifteen, Kincaid was asked to baby-sit for Devon. Instead of watching the two year old, she spends the day reading, allowing Devon’s dirty diaper to go unchanged. The sight of this neglect so enrages Kincaid’s mother that she sets fire to Kincaid’s most prized possessions: her books.

As is typical of this book, many of the stories are told aslant. Before hearing of Devon’s funeral, the reader learns of the funeral of a four-year-old child whose mother vomits thin liquid at the horror of his death. Later, instead of confronting Devon’s homosexuality directly (which can’t be done; the fact is learned third hand through an Antiguan woman who approaches Kincaid in the United States after he has died), Kincaid writes about Freeston, an openly gay man who feels it’s his duty to speak of having the HIV virus but is reviled for his honesty.

Perhaps because grief is irrational and sometimes incoherent, Kincaid’s story becomes even more disjointed after Devon’s death. Kincaid learns that as Devon was dying, he called out for all the members of his family but not for his sister. His last word is ‘‘Styles,’’ his nickname for his brother Joe, the one he didn’t get along with as an adult.

The penultimate scene is Devon’s funeral. At the funeral, Kincaid is displeased with the minister’s sermon. When the minister suggests that the family will be reunited after death, she thinks that she’d rather not see any of these people again. She then discusses how she is writing about her brother’s death in order to understand it, how writing has been her salvation. And she ends this memoir on a very personal note, describing how she wrote for William Shawn, the editor of the New Yorker, a man she calls ‘‘the perfect reader.’’ Although Mr. Shawn has died, she continues to write for him.

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