Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 407

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Fittingly enough, one of Kincaid’s fortes—writing about anger—has earned her extreme critical reactions. One review of My Brother opens this way: ‘‘Jamaica Kincaid is great at describing rage.’’ Sarah Kerr, the author of that review, believes that Kincaid’s memoir of her brother succeeds because it ultimately moves beyond rage. ‘‘Still, rage is only one shade on the spectrum of human experience. Kincaid’s new memoir is more expansive than her fiction—and at times more moving—because in it, she begins to explore some of the others.’’

In one of the more glowing reviews of My Brother, Anna Quindlen praises Kincaid in the New York Times for her ability to recreate the disorderly way human beings remember their lives. ‘‘Memory feels exactly like My Brother,’’ Quindlen writes. And later she observes, ‘‘Kincaid moves with strange naturalness from the dying of her brother to his birth to his place in their family to her own place, providing, among other things, the deep satisfaction of recognition. This is what the mind does when it remembers. This is not real life, but real life recollected.’’

Not all critics are so enthusiastic. Some take Kincaid to task for writing an ostensible memoir of her brother that isn’t really all that concerned with his life. Diane Hartman, writing for the Denver Post, comments that it’s ‘‘hard to figure why Kincaid wrote this book.’’ She also complains, ‘‘the book isn’t a tribute or memorial and has no moral or discernible point.’’ Writing in Time, John Skow calls My Brother ‘‘an irritating navel contemplation,’’ in which Kincaid ‘‘repeats the pattern of familiar, well-written complaint.’’ His central criticism revolves around the fact that the memoir is only glancingly a portrait of Kincaid’s half-brother and its ‘‘real subject is Kincaid’s scalded psyche.’’

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of My Brother is its style. Some critics applaud the circularity of the sentences, while others are put off by the repetitiousness. Hartman calls the style ‘‘infuriating,’’ noting that Kincaid ‘‘repeats facts over and over, not adding a different perspective or subtle shade of meaning, just providing the same facts. This may remind someone of Gertrude Stein; I found it condescending.’’ And while Quindlen is mainly enthusiastic about Kincaid’s style, she thinks the experimentation sometimes goes too far. ‘‘There are pitfalls to this,’’ she writes. ‘‘Some of the sentences are snarled string, some of the repetitions a tiresome tic.’’

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