(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

SHAPE-SHIFTER, Melville’s first collection of stories, won the Guardian Fiction Prize and International PEN’S Macmillan Silver Pen Award. Born in Guyana and now living in London, Melville writes with authority, warmth, and humor about individuals caught in the cross currents of cultural and racial change. Her stories range from a straightforward tale about a jinxed thief to a postmodern, richly textured narrative with multiple viewpoints across several generations about the ambivalent experience of being an immigrant. In addition to writing entertaining stories that display a keen social awareness, Melville is also an accomplished poet and scriptwriter, a comedienne, an actress, and a trained psychologist. Salman Rushdie has praised SHAPE-SHIFTER work as “A notably sharp, funny and original first collection of stories, part Caribbean magic, part London grime, written in a slippery, chameleon language that is a frequent delight.”

"I Do Not Take Messages from the Dead,” a hilarious political satire set in Guyana, deals with the fate of a hapless radio broadcaster, Shakespeare, who in a play on names inadvertently offends Comrade Vice-President Hogg, a whimsical tyrant. In trying to regain his job, Shakespeare fabricates an elaborate scheme that exploits Hogg’s innate superstition. Apparently successful, Shakespeare becomes Hogg’s personal adviser, but his ultimate fate is open to interpretation. Less ingenious but equally oppressed, the religious antihero Tuxedo, in the story by that name, is a Jamaican thief who blames his incurable bad luck on the suspicion that God is white.

"Eat Labba and Drink Creek Water,” the last story, dramatizes the experience of being a Global Nomad, of belonging to two cultures yet not being able to identify fully with either one. In London the opening narrator feels nostalgia for her home in Guyana, but whichever side of the Atlantic she’s on, “the dream is always on the other side.” The early explorers who dreamt of crystal mountains in South America were disillusioned; and generations of West Indians who dreamt of a better life in Europe find that the new life is bittersweet, and that home is never the same.